Gag That Monkey


Photo by Arindam Raha on


This monkey is first to comment on

the moderator’s obvious hairpiece,

a stranger’s clashing blouse and pants,

someone’s bad skin, crooked teeth, attitude

and all your mistakes from birth to present


This monkey always has the loudest voice,

blaring like Aunt Agnes with her foghorn comments,

complaining about the warm vichyssoise,


(Five A’s and a B?  Why the B?)

too fat too late too much too long


The monkey’s noise

is an unending stream of spam

filling your mind’s inbox,

blabbing commercials and news bites

so difficult to mute


Catch that creature!

Put it in a soundproof cell

without bananas.

Get on with

your life.

Welcome/Go Home


Photo by Max Fischer on


This article is updated from the original written before I retired from teaching ENL.


“Go home,” said Juan.

            To me.

            Those two words made me feel sick at heart, rejected, and devalued.  After days of planning lessons and gathering materials, after four weeks of driving 80 miles to Middletown and back during my summer vacation, after four weeks of orchestrating writers’ workshop for this group of middle school students, those two words were my feedback.

            “What can we do to improve the program?” I had asked the students on the last day of Young Writer’s Camp.

            “Go home,” said Juan. 

            Two months later, I heard those two words again, this time from a teacher.  They were spoken during a workshop on English as a New Language (ENL) that I was co-presenting to middle school teachers in my school district.  My colleagues and I had composed several fictitious profiles to illustrate the varied backgrounds of our English Language Learners (ELLs).  One of the teachers read this profile:

Profile II: Beginner


            I am a refugee from Afghanistan.  We left two years ago.  My father is still there.  I live with my mother and four brothers and one sister here in Highland Mills.  None of us wanted to leave our country.  I miss my father so much and I worry about his safety.  I can speak English in short sentences using functional vocabulary.  I am literate in my first language.  I don’t want to be in the U.S., and I am not motivated to learn English.  Because my mother leaves for work early in the morning, my brothers and I often sleep late and miss the bus.  We hate everything here and we want to go home.

            “So go home,” a male teacher called out. 

Some people laughed.  I felt heartsick again.  Surely this teacher’s attitude was communicated to his ELLs, our students.

            Now, I’d been a teacher for many years.  I knew the extra pressure that fell on a teacher with one or more ELLs in his or her class.  Often, teachers were already overwhelmed by the daily demands of our jobs.   I knew what it was like to deal with students who would rather be anywhere but in school.   That kind of resistance from a recent immigrant seems to smack of ingratitude, never mind the additional attention required from teachers to repeat directions or adjust assignments.

I didn’t know if the teacher who called out was a willing, interested member of the workshop, or if he was just enduring another in-service day.  Whatever the teacher’s story when he yelled, “Go home!” I was on the verge of responding aloud.  I remained silent, but what I wanted to say was, “Yes!  That’s it exactly!  Anton wants to go home.  But the point is that he can’t.   He’s just a kid, subject to the decisions of adults who believe they know what is best for him. 

“So what areas of his life can Anton control?  He can control his life at school. He can choose not to like school, not to learn English, not to like the United States.  From Anton’s point of view, acquiescence would only distance him further from his father.  Maybe, for Anton, there is no home to go back to, just a pile of rubble that used to be his neighborhood.”

Pondering the lives of today’s immigrant students, I wonder how their experiences compare to those of my aunt Helen.  She passed through Ellis Island around 1900.  Did someone ever tell her to go home to Poland, where the Jews were being corralled in ghettos or victimized by pogroms?  Did the teachers at her public school in New York City make her feel welcome or unwanted? 

            The greatest teacher I know begins all her talks with these words, “With great respect and love, I welcome you all, with all my heart.”

            When we welcome someone, we give that person value and recognition.  Welcoming is an invitation to belong, to be included.  Welcome offers warmth and generosity.  It says, “Share with us.”  Often coming from difficult situations, our ENL students want and need to feel welcomed.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  Some teachers perceive an ENL student as an added burden.

            When I taught ENL, my first duty was to look in the mirror.  Was I welcoming my new students?  When a new child registered and joined one of my already crowded groups, did I make her feel safe and included, or did I project an attitude of exasperation that communicated, “Go home”?

            It’s not always easy for teachers to find the time and energy to make a new ELL feel welcome.  To welcome a new student with respect and warmth is surely no more than we would want for ourselves, or for our own children in a foreign land. 


Photo by Nothing Ahead on

Today my friend gave me

blue and yellow ribbons

to pin on my jacket.

Two to hand out.


The war grows desperate.

Compassion for the suffering Ukrainians

battles with my smoldering anger

for the attention and support

given to that country

of white-skinned Europeans.


Yes, says our president,

we will take in 100,000 refugees.


People fleeing El Salvador

are turned away–

South Sudan, Syria, Myanmar,

Congo, Nigeria, Yemen,

Afghanistan, Eritrea—

all in states of war,

10,000 or more

deaths this year

in each country.


Look in the mirror with wide eyes.

Who cries on the other side of the wall?


Welcome to new followers! Thank you for reading.

The Bridge


Photo by Pixabay on


The Holy Spirit manages the bridge before me.

It guards the tollbooth with holy hand outstretched.

The toll it requires is my ego.

All that I imagine I am.

All the crazy, negative thoughts

roaming loose in my mind.

All the judgments, complaints, and criticisms

are part of the fee.


I must also pay with my body,

this skin suit I identify as me

that the Holy Spirit won’t admit through the gate.

It requires payment of my past and future

because this bridge crosses over

to the eternal present.


And so, I wait in line,

wondering if I can let go of the five senses:

the glorious fragrance of rosemary, eucalyptus,

cedar, sandalwood.

The feel of cat’s fur, orange peel, silk.

The sound of gospel harmonies, rain,

happy children.

The view of waving leaves,

their shadows on the wall.

And colors.

Yes, colors.

And taste.  Cucumbers and chocolate,

steamed rice, curry.


It’s no loss to toss the negative thoughts.

Who needs those?

Satya IV: Soul Travel


Photo by Magda Ehlers on


Satya lives in this house, but it is not her home.  Right now her home is two continents away, in a dusty village, with him.  He’s probably eating his evening meal of rose-flavored yoghurt and a mango.  Wherever her teacher resides, Satya’s home is in that place, at his feet.

            It is not yet dawn in the Hudson Valley.  While her daughter, Devi, her heart’s delight, dreams gently in the bedroom across the hall, Satya lets her soul fly home, to the hut beside the temple, and there he is.

            He feels the presence of her spirit and greets her with a wide smile, even though his eyes are closed.  The evening meal is over.  Others have come to sit in the presence of this man.  The silence is alive with his energy.  Satya allows her astral body to rest in the love pulsing from her teacher. 

            His white hair seems incandescent; his high cheekbones rise above the full beard.  He is wrapped in a blue shawl, sitting on a folded white wool blanket.

            When her dogs begin to bark, Satya’s soul sails back through the dark and light of half a day, back into her body of muscle and bone.  It feels at first like she has put on a suit of armor, cold and unyielding.  She cannot move her fingers; she must consciously tell her heart to beat faster.  The dogs lick her hands; their warm tongues and worry have her eyelids opening.  Satya stares up at the pale blue ceiling.  Tears trickle from the outer edges of her eyes.  The longing is always the worst of the pain.

            “Here I am again,” she thinks.  “Still such a long, long way from home.”