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Happy new year from Short-Shorts — and final pieces from students

Enjoy reading these. If you wish, consider their subjects. What would you say about “the real thing” or a “blackbird feather” or your “secondary education.” Try writing a few sentences on one topic — or on all of them. Then write a paragraph, maybe a few more — or maybe not, concentrating on the ones you wrote. By now you’ll be caught up in the process of creating your own short-short.

“The Real Thing” by Bart Galle

I watched the gull from my dock as it struggled with something out in the bay, probably a fish that was dead or wounded but too big to pick up. It squawked with frustration and disbelief. This went on for quite a while, until I grew bored and went back to editing a rejected poem. Just then a dark shape came swooping down from behind me, white tail fanned, white head trained on the target. The eagle picked up the object of the gull’s fussing, rose steeply, and was gone. The gull moved off to the side, splashed around frantically, and increased its plaintive cries. At first I thought it had lost a chick. Then I decided it was just embarrassed, as we all are when the real thing shows up.

“Blackbird Feather” by Bart Galle

If I were Arapaho, I might think less of this feather, knowing that the blackbird failed to save a young girl married to a bull. Yet it knew enough to recommend the badger and the mole. With their cunning they rescued Splinter Foot Girl from the bull and later from a merciless stone. The blackbird played its role, which is all any of us can do.

Did you know that when you stuck this jaunty feather in your cap? Did you notice the white tip of the quill and imagine the blackbird naked and white? Did you think, If night is a blackbird’s wing, I am holding a piece of night? Was it the crystalline perfection or just that beauty, once discovered, cannot be given back?

Bart Galle is a medical educator and visual artist living in St. Paul. He is a 2008-2009 Loft Mentor Series Winner in Poetry and the winner of the 2008 Passager Poetry Contest for writers over 50 and the Fall 2009 Hollingsworth Prize for outstanding poem from White Pelican Review. His poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2009. They have appeared in Water-Stone Review, White Pelican Review, Minnetonka Review, The Comstock Review, Coe Review and other publications.

“Secondary Education” by Thomas Kendrick

* Kindergarten — I didn’t go to kindergarten because there wasn’t one at Holy Trinity School in Rollingstone, MN, which went from first through twelfth.
* Grade 1 — In a broom closet after school, to which I’d been banished for some infraction of school law, I was asked to reflect on why I was there, but I had no idea at all of what I had done wrong so I offered, helpfully, “Because I dropped my pencil?”
* Grade 2 — I talked during the fire drill but blamed it on Tommy Kalmes because of the similarities of our names.
* Grade 3 (first time) — Outside the classroom window, the pond and the passing clouds claimed much more of my attention than did Sister Nancy who had a nervous breakdown mid-year, but she wasn’t the only one who flunked that year.
* Grade 3 (the repeat) — After several half-hearted attempts in my first three years, I finally buckled down and got really serious about developing my class clown skills.
* Grade 4 — I knew when the knock came to the door that Daddy had died and that I’d be going home to a very different home life forever.
* Grade 5 — My teacher Mrs. Wise lived across the street from the school and brought the class over during school one afternoon to watch a World Series game between the Cardinals and the Red Sox.
* Grade 6 — I brought a frog into the classroom and released it and put a large rubber spider under Sister Michon’s grade book, which got me banished to the broom closet where, after a day and a half, I learned to feign remorse so I could get back to my audience.
* Grade 7 — At the chaotic junior high in Winona where punks like Mark Gilson stole french fries with impunity off of other kids’ trays and Jim McGill picked fights every day and Principal Harvey Kane told me I looked like Phyllis Diller, I walked the jagged and violent halls in fear, a lost boy learning to retreat inwardly.
* Grade 8 — I was proud of my A in astronomy, which floated across my report card amidst a veritable sea of Ds and Fs in English and Math.
* Grade 9 — I liked the smaller ambience of Cotter High School where I was recognized by friends of older siblings, but now it was the Fs in algebra that swam in a sea of Ds.
* Grade 10 — My puzzlement over the fact that “Christian Marriage” was taught by a supposedly celibate priest was shared by neither my friends nor the administration.
* Grade 11 — Expelled for “continued insubordination,” I spent my time at home reading and hiking and referred to myself not as a drop out but as a “rise above.”
* (what would have been Grade 12) — I headed west with friends where we named ourselves “The Celestial Circus” and played a slide show of nature photos to “Dark Side of the Moon” and passed the hat.
* College, Year 1 — I made the dean’s list at the U of M the first two quarters and began piano lessons.
* College, Year 2 — I lost interest in things academic but immersed myself in Beethoven and Edgar Allan Poe, for which I received no credit, or credits.
(lots of white space here to convey three years passing)
* College, Year 3 — As a humanities major and philosophy minor at St. Mary’s College, I discovered Homer’s Odyssey and his poetic language, both still a living force for me.
(much more white space here to convey twelve years passing)
* College, Year 4 — Biking down from a dingy north Minneapolis apartment to the U of M every day, I wondered why I was able to ride away from a dead end life when so many of my neighbors were not doing the same thing.
* College, Year 5 — I earned my B. A. in history, writing my senior paper on “Old Slave Days,” an event that was celebrated in my mother’s childhood in North Carolina.
* Master’s Year 1 — I began the elementary education licensure program at the U of M under Dr. Buggey, whose low regard for me was exceeded only by mine for her.
* Master’s Year 2 — I secured my master’s degree with considerable influence from my mother’s prayer life, becoming the 10th child of 14 in my family to enter the field of education.
* Today — On my classroom wall, suggesting just a trace of irony by their mere presence alongside each other, hang three framed certificates: my G.E.D. diploma and my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and I am equally proud of all of them.

Thomas Kendrick is a second grade teacher in St. Paul and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. He enjoys song-writing, word play and starting his day at 4 a.m. with a hot cup of English Breakfast tea. His favorite authors include Homer, Loren Eiseley and Dr. Seuss.

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