A literary sidenote

After constantly hearing from people what a waste of time high school was, I think it is safe to say that those four years were not the best experience for many. I was skinny and had a sweet hair cut. I think people thought I was weird for having the name Carlos but being white so I do not recall a very impressive social life. Educationally speaking, I do not recall that much. After four years of French, I cannot speak a word of it. I do not remember any history lessons. However, I do remember a couple of teachers; one of them was Mr. Anderson, an English teacher my senior year. Although I do not recall many specific lessons, he taught in a way that obviously sparked something in me and opened my eyes to literature, paving the way for me to learn how to appreciate it. I became a teacher and ironically, literature is my favorite subject to teach. Why is it ironic? Well, I do not actually enjoy sitting down to read. To give myself some credit, I read a ton, just not the types of novels you see people reading on planes and on the beach. I do a lot of research and so my reading seems to be more informational. I might only read 2-3 books a year. I might also be lying about that. However, that does not reflect on Mr. Anderson.

Growing up I was exposed to literature as my father is a writer and although I do not share his gift of the written word, I was surrounded by his literary tendencies and grammatical criticism. He exposed me to his favorite poets but the written word was not meaningful until I began teaching my own students. We all internalize learning at different times. As teachers, we are so focused on making sure students get everything before they leave the room that we tend to forget this. This is a story of how something I learned in high school did not have meaning for me until just now.

At some point during my senior year, we read some William Carlos Williams in Mr. Anderson’s class and his poetry stuck in my mind for various reasons. First, I found his name actually stranger than my own but with an obvious familiar sound. My name is Carlos Bill. Secondly, I was exposed to one of the shortest poems I had ever read. It was at this moment I realized that there was something more to poetry but I had not figured it out. I am pretty sure Mr. Anderson knew we would not figure it out but sometimes it is important to share something knowing it may not hit home right at that moment. How did this guy with a ridiculous name get sixteen words published in an English anthology? I figure he must have known the publisher because his poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow” was just too simple:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

So we read the poem and I certainly cannot remember what was discussed in class but it just stuck with me. I used to read it to my students to show them how simple poetry can be and to help demystify the written word. In high school, and until recently, I saw it as a poem; so little describes so much, proving how powerful words can be. I certainly will not bore you with a literary analysis of the poem (I bet Mr. Anderson would like to hear it) but simply share my experience with these words. Like everyone else, we all look at the words and hear words and connect different experiences with them. I had seen and used wheelbarrows but never a red one. Come to think of it, I had never seen one glazed with rainwater, but I could imagine it. Now, why it was beside the chickens was another mystery. Also, why were the chickens white? Finally, in all this confusion I had to contemplate why so much depends on these simple things. So, as a normal high school student, I went on with my incredibly important high school life and I placed it in some random file cabinet in a dark corner of my mind. I only accessed it when I became a teacher, but I still had not figured it out.

Recently, I found myself working on a farm in New Mexico and the poem actually came to life. We had to move about 50 white chickens into a new coup and just behind the coop, in plain sight, we kept a wheelbarrow (not red unfortunately). One morning I walked out of my trailer to sip coffee on the porch. The smell of soap curing in the living room followed me outside and the goats were begging to be milked. I was just enjoying the cool morning air and the sunlight slowly making its way through the oak tree leaves. As I stared off in the distance I noticed dew all over the wheelbarrow and the white chickens in the background. A deep smile came over me-sort of like the ‘aha’ moments we see in students. I saw the poem in my mind. I read the poem in my mind. I walked out to the wheelbarrow and walked around the poem. I fed the poem chicken feed and the poem moved when I moved the wheelbarrow. You could say the poem came to life and I never would have experienced that unless I had gone to that farm. I never would have experienced that had I not been exposed to that poem. For all that I know, that’s the reason I went to that farm and I am thankful to have had that experience for it made me realize that learning something in 1989 just only now came to have meaning. I suppose that might just prove how slow I am but I would rather see it as a life lesson; we may not understand what things mean at the moment they happen but if we keep our eyes open, the answers eventually present themselves.

The final twist to this literary side note is that it was not until my last week on the farm that I noticed something written in small print, on a small, faded yellow piece of paper taped to a cabinet door I had walked past a hundred times. It was in the dark hallway between my room and the kitchen. For some reason, this morning it caught my eye and I stopped to read it. Someone had placed these words here because they had meaning or maybe they just liked the sound of the words or the name of the author. Or maybe, just maybe, they had walked out onto the porch to sip coffee and had seen what I had seen. Could it also be possible that they had Mr. Anderson as a high school teacher? The words on the piece of paper read,

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

 

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About Carlos Bill

Carlos is a dynamic public school teacher and Principal with professional development experience in 2nd language acquisition, educational technology, and classroom management. He also is Co-Founder of Travel to Learn, an organization dedicated to teaching people how to live a truly regenerative lifestyle with respect to health, relationships, and the natural environment. TTL does this through public speaking engagements, workshops, and travel programs.
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2 Responses to A literary sidenote

  1. colin says:

    pretty amazing. the school/farm sounds amazing. what a great experience for the kids. i would have loved that. not many kids get anything close to that…

  2. Chris Valle says:

    Thank you for sharing Carlos…such a beautiful & inspiring story.
    May your journey continue to uncover lost gems…blessings brother~

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