Listener In The Snow

Listener In The Snow

by Mark Statman

Paperback(New Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780915924592
Publisher: Teachers & Writers Collaborative
Publication date: 01/01/2000
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.41(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Three Lessons about Time

    I. Trying to Figure It Out

    Avenue of Time

there isn't a real story here
there's only the way
there are stars
reflected everywhere
to the ocean
the city
the sky
and they dance so crazy
in this reflection
it shows
how nothing in this universe
is fixed or forever
anything can happen
before the sun sets
or after
fortune and loss and change
between the earth and stars
Mark Statman


Time goes everywhere around the world If time was backwards the morning is night and night is morning and we sleep in the future
Jacob Cohen, first grade

Over infinity, I said to a group of twelve fourth and fifth graders, scientists say that time and space are the same thing. I watched their faces. Thinking. Thinking. Then, enthusiastic responses.


    Star Trek.

    Back to the Future.

    Bubbling voices about Michael J. Fox, about Captains Kirk, Picard, and Janeway, deep space, time travel.

    Except for one girl, a tremendously talented fifth grade writer. She didn't say anything, but her eyes took on a special glow. The other students had translated my comment into science fiction—their minds were watching movies. But she saw what the scientists saw. Shegot the idea of infinity and endlessness, the enormity of the universe. She saw the reason that time and space would have to be the same thing, that one was the other and that time and space, as we experience them in our daily lives, are not what, over eternity, they actually are. Time and space, as we know them, with their temporal dimensionality, are somehow false.

    For a second, she glowed. Then she burst into tears, put her head down on her desk, and cried for almost an hour. I sat with her during much of that time, my hands on her shoulders, trying to comfort her, feeling vaguely guilty that what she had understood was my fault. Because she really had realized something. She'd not only understood the infinite, she'd understood, as children usually can't, the finite. And that knowledge was overwhelming. It had, she told me, frightened her. Which is normal. It echoes T. S. Eliot's lines in The Four Quartets:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

    To try to make sense of the hugeness of the universe is too hard. A leap of faith becomes necessary, one that allows us not only to acknowledge our inability to understand the logic of life but also to believe that there is one, as Einstein did when he noted that "God does not play dice with the universe."

    Although the concept of time over infinity can be such a strange and difficult thing to understand, it isn't hard for children to understand time in the immediate. In a classroom, I demonstrate the idea of past, present, and future. I stand in front of a class and say, Look, in the future, I'm going to throw a piece of chalk in the air. Tell me when it is in the present. Then I throw the chalk. Present, the students shout. Now what is it, I ask. Past. I do this again. Show the chalk. Throw the chalk. Show it. Then I ask them if there is ever a point in which we are in the future? Ever a point when we are in the past? Is there ever a point when we are not living in the present?

    Sometimes, I tell the students about how scientists have made the distinction between what they call space time and relative time. Space time is the big one: time over infinity. Space time refers to how the stars we see are so many light-years away, that what we're looking at in the night sky actually happened millions of years ago. Relative time is close. It's the one in which we can see ourselves living: personal history, family history, world history.

    We always live in the present. Although that sounds obvious, it isn't something kids usually reflect on. They've been given so many ideas about time to think about through TV, movies, video games, books, and comics, that they don't think about time personally. Yes, they talk about wanting to be older, tell you what their careers might be or how they want to be older so that they can drive a car or live on their own. But for the most part they don't really wonder about time in their lives, how it passes, why it passes, what it means that time is infinite over infinity but finite in our lives. But a serious discussion gets them thinking about the meaning of time in their lives. How we can anticipate, want, wait, hope for the future. We can plan for it, imagine it, or wonder about it. But we can never be in it. Similarly, we can remember, retell, and even revise the past, but we can never be in it. In the largest sense of ego, we can never think about either past or future without thinking about ourselves because it is our "T" which is doing the thinking, imposing some kind of imagined or remembered order on whatever has been or will be.

II. Lesson One: What Does Time Do?

I begin this lesson by asking the students to think about time as they see it in their own lives. We talk about how they've seen themselves changing and growing. They often talk about how quickly they seem to change and how their parents never seem to change much at all and yet how they must be changing. We talk about the different ways time passes and the old cliché of how it flies when you're having fun and why they think it's true. Students are fascinated by the contrast between linear time and cyclical time (the way the seasons always return): everything gets older, but the world seems always to repeat itself.

    Ciudad Maya comida para la selva

De la gran ciudad maya sobreviven arcos desmanteladas construcciones vencidas por la ferocidad de la maleza En lo alto el cielo en que se ahogaron sus dioses

Las ruinas tienen el color de la arena Parecen cuevas ahondadas en montañas que ya no existen

De tanta vida que hubo aquí de tanta grandeza derrumbada sólo perduran las pasajeras flores que no cambian
José Emilio Pacheco

    Mayan City: Food for the Forest

Of the great Mayan city the arches survive ruined constructions beaten by the ferocity of the weeds High above is the sky where their gods drowned

The ruins have the color of sand They seem like caves sunken in mountains that no longer exist

Of all the life that once was here of all the grand collapse all that remains are the unchanging passing flowers

When I teach Pacheco's poem—and I often do when I know a class has been studying great civilizations of the past—I point out how the poet looks at and describes time, and with it, nature. Over time, the once great city has become "ruined," "sunken," "collapsed." Nature is harsh here, the weeds are "ferocious," the sky even drowns the Mayan gods. We also talk about how the very appearance of the poem adds to this general effect. The uneven lines of the poem mirror the scattered remains of the city, spilling across and down the page, words like "survive" and "beaten" standing alone like smaller fragments among the larger ones.

    In this poem, time is no friend to the Mayans. In fact, it seems to have been a companion destroyer with the human conquerors. Noting this, though, we also talk about how absent any humanity is from this poem. The only survivors are the flowers that, paradoxically, are both unchanging and passing. One sixth grader noted that Pacheco was describing a process that doesn't look like one: the flowers aren't always there, they just seem to be.

    The Mayans never imagined the moment of this poem. To imagine it, they would not be able to include themselves. How could they see a world where they weren't? Who would be doing the seeing? The Mayan ruins are simultaneously a monument to the flourishing and the dying of a great civilization. For Mexicans today, the ruins are a source of pride because this greatness is part of their past, and thus this greatness is still in them. But what would the former inhabitants of the city say about what they would see today?

    When the students write, I ask them to think about how time passes and changes their world. I remind them of the discussion we had, before reading the poem, about time in their own lives. What does it do to and for them? What do they think about all these things? Since time seems so constant, can they imagine a world beyond time, a place after time? I suggest, as they describe all these possible ideas and situations, to consider including how it makes them feel to be observing what they observe, to understand what they know. I can remember how happy fifth grader Luis Rivera looked as he catalogued the items he would leave in a box for a fifth grader of the future, the seriousness with which Tony Sheridan imagined and Jessica Laboy pondered the end of time. Mercedes Pimintel's description of time as being about love satisfies me because of how much I'd like to think it's true.

    To the Fifth Grader Who Sits in My Seat

To the fifth grader who sits in my seat
30 years from now I leave in this box
my old sneakers and my fried chicken
one of my old pens and an old pencil
and my ring
my favorite food
Roy Rogers
my favorite candy
now and later
potato chips and my best toy
that I like, G.I. Joe
My color TV and my drawings too

Just for you
Thank you
Luis Rivera, fifth grade

    After Time

After time you'll begin a new life as
another creature
and another creature will become you
After time the birds will stop singing

After time the fish won't swim

You won't play with your friends

After time the winds will end
After time the skies will end
And the waves won't smash
smash against the sand and
erode it away
That's what remains after time
Tony Sheridan, sixth grade

Walking thinking
how it was before
that people once lived
wondering if their spirits
are around
looking at what once
was alive
and what's alive
hoping that when
life is gone we
will be
history and hoping
other people would
our history which
once alive but which
will be in ruins
Jessica Lee Laboy, sixth grade

Time changes and I grow up
and the world changes and
my mother grew old and
my teacher grew old too and
I still love my teacher in time
and time changes and
my teacher's dress is beautiful
Time is love
and time is beautiful like
my mom and my teacher
Time time time
It is time to stop writing
and I love just love
Time is a big heart
Mercedes Pimentel, fifth grade

III. Lesson Two: Definitions of Time

In some classes I ask the kids to think about how to define time. It's surprisingly fun. Sometimes they point at the clock or the calendar as being what time is. So without clocks and calendars there'd be no time? I ask. Not exactly, they reply, and we get to the idea that these things measure time. So what is time? I refer to the poem fifth grader Mercedes Pimintel wrote in which she called time "love" and a "big heart." Sometimes I read them her poem. We talk about the beauty of the poem, lines like "I still love my teacher in time/and time changes and/my teacher's dress is beautiful," the wonderful juxtaposition of the teacher's dress and changing time which allows time to become so small and specific (the dress) and so large (the change) in the same moment in the poem.

    For some students, though, Mercedes's description of time still seems too abstract. It's too much about feelings. So what, then? Days and nights? Our lives? History? But this is about people, I say. Does time need people? Is there time on Jupiter? Was there time in the days of the dinosaurs? Once, a third grader named Eric said that of course there was always time, but people were the only ones that paid any attention to it. Which led me to the question that if time is infinite, why are people always saying we're running out of it?

    When we talk about time, I want the students to do some intellectual stretching on the subject. I want them to take what they're curious about and see how far they can go with it. I ask them to think about time in different ways. If it had a sound, a color, a voice, what would those be like? Who are the friends of time, who are the enemies? What would the dreams of time be like? What would time love or fear? These kinds of questions allow students to think imaginatively about an idea they may too often take for granted, to see it in another way, and to understand it more completely. I tell them about how Albert Einstein was able to understand light more completely by imagining that he was travelling with it, that he was it. I ask them to do the same kind of thing, to imagine that they are time. What would that be like?

    When the students write, I prompt them to think about these different distinctions, definitions, and descriptions they've been making about time. I ask them to respond to their thinking, to write what they've been saying and see how far they can develop their ideas and descriptions. The students welcome this kind of exercise, with its mixing of science and poetry, facts meeting the imagination.

The rebirth of another occurs
You shrink into time
The memory of yourself becomes
less and less
Until there's no more
The days pass by
Like little violets in the
But still life on earth begins
Another day passes the more time
Night falls over the dawn
And keeps going
The clock has no meaning
It just keeps track
Lauren Loechner, sixth grade


People old people young time
doesn't care if it did we wouldn't
all live in this boring
world full of this hatred
world where time controls
night and day controls
hate and love
Time controls our minds that drift
in our minds
Norman Ayende, fifth grade

Time goes all over the world
If time stopped, we would go
back into time and everything
would go backwards
People would, animals, things
that move
Schools would fall down
Lions would turn into cubs
Trees would turn into seeds
Bricks would get smaller and
smaller and crack
Day would go backwards
The world would be blank
and it would stop spinning
Everything would go backwards
by itself
Paint would disappear
So would everything
Food would come out of our mouths
People would turn into babies
When nothing is on this Earth
time will stop
Scott Roberts, first grade

This time
yellow sun
yellow and red

and if
you look hard
you can still see the blue

with joy
fly away
Michael Armstrong, fifth grade

    I like how sixth grader Lauren Loechner thinks about the time beyond "you" and the meaninglessness of clocks, and how first grader Scott Roberts writes about time stopping and everything going into reverse. Interestingly, relative time is a perspective that troubles Norman Ayende but reassures Michael Armstrong. But whether they are troubled or reassured, I think it's important for young people to be able to examine the ways they can see time. If they can do this, they can see that despite space-time's overwhelming hugeness, looking at relative time allows them to see time as something they can, if not control, at least try to understand and manage in their own lives.

Table of Contents

Preface by Kenneth Kochxi
Chapter 1: Three Lessons about Time11
Chapter 2: Origin, Family, Roots27
Chapter 3: It's Real for Me but Not for You So Now What?39
Chapter 4: Silence50
Chapter 5: Loss57
Chapter 6: Going Places, Seeing Places: On Descriptive Writing69
Chapter 7: Listener in the Snow: Writing Poems about the
Chapter 8: Sleeping and Dreaming99
Chapter 9: Seeing Ourselves in the World111
Chapter 10: Waiting, Hoping, Returning: Some Thoughts on
Writing and Teaching134
Coda: The Necessary Art of Revision144
Appendix 1: The Teachers & Writers Collaborative Fieldcourse158
Appendix 2: One Hundred Books170
Appendix 3: Model Poems Cited175

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