Friday, March 18, 2011

Keeping a Net Beneath Them

                                Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.
                                                           --Colleen Wilcox

I open the book and pump three poems 
into their heads, push a paper ladder 
against their brains and beg them 
to climb out of their mind-set
of common connectivity and fantasy.
But I discover their fear of heights and,
of course, I compete with Facebook,
Twitter, and some strawberry blonde
in a Saran Wrap costume snorkeling for attention.

Once I drowned in the undertow of mini-skirts,
bell-bottom trousers, and long hair row after row.
So maybe it makes no difference
what they think or do or wear in school today,
or whether they squeeze the universe into a ball
to roll it toward some overwhelming question,
or love a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater
beside the white chickens.   

These are the Millennials: the Net Generation 
that plumbs the meaning of life without sweetness 
and through Wi-Fi networks and iPhones,
and what they learn now surges from a flux
of wireless LAN, Bluetooth and YouTube. 

Perhaps they’ll find out later
all they need to know [about] truth [and] beauty
for now, just riptides 
to their short-circuited obsessions.

Even so, I can’t help but love their vertigo
when the heavy tug of ignorance lifts slowly
from their faces against the sinking of gravity,
just after they embark on that first rung 
of understanding and ascend 
with no sense of balance.

“Keeping a Net Beneath Them” was originally published by Thorntree Press in Troika IV, 1994.
“Keeping a Net Beneath Them” received an award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 1994.
“Keeping a Net Beneath Them” was also published in the DuPage Valley Review in 2011.


  1. Ah! Just an existential voice in the vast wilderness of ubiquitous connectivity. Is there anyone out there?

  2. Glen, I miss your instruction and friendship the older and more serious about poetry that I become. After recently studying poetry alongside beginner poets--who are a generation younger--at two universities, I thought of your poem and sought it out. This version was really enjoyable. I cannot imagine what is was like to be a poet of your caliber, who read so much student poetry for so long. It can be a special kind of tourture.