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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Poetry Break #2: A Poem by a Hispanic Poet
Rich, Adrienne. 1996. The Best American Poetry 1996. New York: Scribner. ISBN 068481451X

Introduction: This poem is relevant for second grade and up. The younger students will require explanations but will enjoy relating to the visual language.
Although they are not children, this poem would be very relevant for a teacher's inservice or discussion group. Especially if there are children  in the school of different national origin or did not have English as their first language.

David Talamantez on the Last

Day of Second Grade


By Rosemary Catacalos



San Antonio, Texas 1988


David Talamantez, whose mother is at work, leaves his mark

     everywhere in the schoolyard,

tosses pages from a thick sheaf of lined paper high in the air one

     by one, watches them



catch on the teachers' car bumpers, drift into the chalky narrow

     shade of the water fountain.

One last batch, stapled together, he rolls tight into a makeshift

     horn through which he shouts



David! and David, yes! before hurling it away hard and darting

     across Barzos Street against

the light, the little sag of head and shoulders when, safe on the

     other side, he kicks a can



in the gutter and wanders toward home. David Talamantez

     believes birds are warm blooded,

the way they are quick in the air and give out long strings of

     complicated music, different



all the time, not like cats and dogs. For this he was marked down

     in Science, and for putting

his name in the wrong place, on the right with the date instead

     of on the left with Science



Questions, and for not skipping a line between his heading and

     answers. The X's for wrong

things are big, much bigger than Talamantez's tiny writing.

     Write larger, his teacher says


in red ink across the tops of many pages. Messy! she says on

     others where he has erased

and started over, erased and started over. Spelling, Language

     Expression, Sentences Using



the Following Words. Neck. I have a neck name. No! 20’s, 30's.

Think again! He's good

in Art, though, makes 70 on Reading Station Artist's Corner,

     where he's traced and colored


an illustration from Henny Penny. A goose with red-and-white

     striped shirt, a hen in a turquoise

dress. Points off for the birds, cloud and butterfly he's drawn in

     freehand. Not in the original



picture! Twenty-five points off for writing nothing in the blank

     after This is my favorite scene

in the book because . . . There's a page called Rules. Listen!

     Always working! Stay in your seat!



Raise your hand before you speak! No fighting! Be quiet! Rules

     copied from the board, no grade,

only a huge red checkmark. Later there is a test on Rules. Listen!

     Alay ercng! Sast in ao snet!



Rars aone bfo your spek! No finagn! Be cayt! He gets 70 on

     Rules, 10 on Spelling. An old man

stoops to pick up a crumpled drawing of a large family crowded

     around a table, an apartment


with bars on the windows in Alazan Courts, a huge sun in one

     corner saying, Tomush noys!

After correcting the spelling, the grade is 90. Nice details! And

     there's another mark, on this paper


and all the others, the one in the doorway of La Rosa Beauty

     Shop, the one that blew under

the pool table at La Tenampa, the ones older kids have wadded

     up like big spitballs, the ones run



over by cars. On every single page David Talamantez has crossed  

     out the teacher's red numbers

and written in giant letters, blue ink, Yes! David, yes! 




Poetry Extension: Read the poem to the class, pay special attention to the line breaks and the italicized words. Then break the class into groups for a choral reading. Each group reads a paragraph. This will require attention to detail and timing as the paragraphs are not new sentences but continuations of the preceding paragraph's sentences.


Discuss the poem. What does it mean? Why didn't David do well in class? Could the teacher have done things differently? Should she have? How do you think the other students treated David? What would we do? What should we do?


Then talk about the last paragraph which defines David's irrepressible spirit. Was David going to succeed in life? Why or why not?


Click on the following link to proceed to the next poetry break.

Poetry Break #3