Day 3: On Lines and On Turning Ten

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my day every day in chronological order,11454297503_e27946e4ff_h sequentially. You have to know these words when you are ten.

After PE, my fifth graders line up on the playground to go to class. Glitter falls from the Besty Johnson backpack. Pokemon cards are collected and stashed. The Cavaliers baseball cap is positioned. Girls cluster in the front. Boys at the back sharing Takis.

I walk the line herding stragglers.

The line next to us, the other classroom, takes off. Shoulder to shoulder, two paces apart. A well-oiled machine. Straight, tight and silent.

My line starts out with good intentions. The first partnerships take-off side by side.
I watch them pass.
Two by two
a group of three,
a group of five, and another group of four,
BIG gap,
The singles
a lunch bag in one hand,
a water bottle in the other,
sweatshirts dragging.
Another gap,
then two dreamers who run to catch up.
Backpacks ground them
so they don’t float away.
Corralled in the hallway they stop.
The classroom that will contain them awaits.
When all have arrived, the jellyfish surges forward (or is it backward), stingers trailing.

Fifth graders strain at control and resist containment until they get worried then their younger selves appear. Being with ten is about living on unsteady ground. One never knows. Exciting and painful.

Billy Collins’ poem On Turning Ten captures the age. It’s a must-read for all who care for and about ten-year-olds.  I offer this for the Poetry Friday celebration of Collins’ March birthday. Find more posts celebrating Collins here at Heidi Mordhorst’s blog, My Juicy Little Universe.

On Turning Ten

By Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.


28 thoughts on “Day 3: On Lines and On Turning Ten

  1. Thank you for the poem. Thank you for your description of your line. It sounds like my classroom line that is always a clump. I get surrounded sometimes. We surge and sputter and stop and dilly dally. All good intentions of being straight and structured and organized but the socializing, the noticing, the being us gets in the way. It’s all good.

  2. I am still laughing from your jellyfish comparison that is so perfect. Yes, that’s fifth graders. “Trying to corral or contain them” – hopeless. Observing . . . priceless!

  3. Hi Julieanne! How are you? LOVE your post – every line so perfectly exemplified the life of a fifth grader – my favorite grade. I loved this line – “…then two dreamers who run to catch up. Backpacks ground them so they don’t float away.” Finally, your ending – “Fifth graders strain at control and resist containment until they get worried then their younger selves appear. Being with ten is about living on unsteady ground.” #true Thanks for sharing and lifting my day!

  4. “time to turn the first big number”. How does he do it, show life in all its perfection (or imperfection)? I actually thought your beginning was a poem in honor of Billy, Julieanne. And I’ve often wondered about those classes marching in those straight, straight lines. How does the teacher manage that? Love “two dreamers who run to catch up.” The image is priceless.

  5. I am thinking that only a teacher can appreciate how true and wise your description of “the line” really is. Spot on. And thanks for sharing Billy Collins’ work. Would that we would all still believe that, “there was nothing under my skin but light.”

  6. Your post is exquisite today…every single word of it Thanks for writing such an insightful poem and sharing Billy Collins’ poem about Turning Ten. I wonder what your fifth graders would write if given that prompt as a writing exercise.

  7. What a beautiful juxtaposition of your poem in motion (that line of fifth graders) and Collins’ elegiac poem. I feel lucky to spend my days with kids who still believe that “there was nothing under my skin but light”.

  8. Oh, how we can all relate! That incredible age when children are really starting to come into their own, to test boundaries, to really express themselves as individuals independent of grownups, even when that means they’re almost impossible to herd! 😉

  9. I love the last couple lines of Collins’ poem, and your post underlines how true it is. I remember being ten so clearly, and the skinned knees both real and metaphorical!

  10. Your writing always leaves me in awe. I go back and look at my own and wonder where can I make it flow like Julieanne? You have the perfect analogies and descriptions. Loved the jellyfish connection! Then I read Billy Collins poem, and think what a perfect fit it is for your words.

  11. I’d much prefer the clumps in a line than the drill sergeant of a teacher who has them all marching like soldiers. The Billy Collins poem is sad. I loved turning 10. It was an exciting time to be alive. To me, it’s a golden age of wonder and hope.

  12. I love Billie Collin’s Turning 70 poem and so happy you introduced me to this poem. I wonder why my 3rd graders can’t seem to travel in a line??!! Maybe we’ll read and discuss your poem!! So glad I can look forward to read a post from you each day this month. So glad you are here.

  13. To be 10 is a time when you are caught between being a youngster and on the verge of adolescence. Billy Collins’ lines capture this: “It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
    time to turn the first big number.” Thanks for sharing your poem and matching it with Billy Collins’ poem.

  14. That last stanza! Thanks for sharing this one — I don’t think I’d seen it before. It reminds me of a song that talks about candy not tasting as good any more (because he’s growing up).

  15. I walk the line…..ha! Oh, did I get a picture in my head (not to mention the sound of Johnny Cash….lol). I’m one of your dreamers running to catch up. I was stuck in my head wondering about the paint on the walls….how it’s made and where else I could find it….or if Celia would consider being more of a friend. Hahahaha! Oh, to be ten again. Thanks for sharing your precious ten year olds and BC’s poem with us. It’s a beautiful pairing.

  16. Thank you for having the same kind of line that I have — disorderly, lumpy and loud compared to the other classes’ lines. And thank you for the BC pick you paired yours with. Perfect reminder that they are still CHILDREN, albeit children on the brink. The itchy, squirmy, exciting, scary brink.

  17. Julieanne, I am in awe of how perfectly you describe the “unsteady ground” of being ten. And the Billy Collins poem you chose today is perfection. (My lines were never straight, either. ;-))

  18. Every BC poem I’ve read this weekend has touched (or poked or goosed) me somehow, but this one, Julieanne, which I’ve read before, made me cry. I’m pretty sure it’s because I read your SOL first, got the familiar (wholly original!) teacher view first and then had to wrench my heart into verge-of-ten, “all the dark blue speed drained out of it.” Or maybe it’s because my daughter will turn 18 in a few weeks,
    “time to turn the first [really] big number.” Thank you!

    On a whole ‘nother note: kindergarten and 2nd grade can’t walk in a line either. Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way!

  19. Such a beautiful poem of the line that really embodies children, who are themselves, however we try to make them into dutiful and mindful students. And that poem, so wistful and sad. More self-aware than either of my boys were at 10.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s