How to Leave Your Life

The kids and I have been writing and reading poetry for a few months now–it’s an ideal way to teach so many things (see this post from The Atlantic for reasons why it belongs in the classroom:  Yesterday, we wrote “how to write/read a poem” poems.  I used Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” Sara Holbrook’s “How to Write a Love Poem,” Pamela Spiro Wagner’s “How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual,” and Robin Hirsch’s “You Enter a Poem” to introduce them to the idea.  The poems the kids wrote left me speechless.

While they wrote, it smacked me between the eyes that yesterday was the first day of the last term of the year.  In other words, the first day of the last term I’d be a teacher.  Here’s where I went:

How to Leave Your Life

Pinpoint the exact moment

that you’d like everything to be

the same,

then do something

completely different.

Dream of your biggest fears

(How will I pay the bills?)

(What if I’m an utter failure?)

(What if my mom disapproves?)

and then wake to embrace them.

Get rid of cell phone and cable.

Grow—and then kill—a flat of seedlings.

Call your mother immediately

to tell her excitedly of your plans.


Learn to live within The End

for a year.


as though

all that matters

is love

of learning

and each other.

Say, “Goodbye. I love you,”

inside your head

during every class.

Before every lesson,


that you will never teach it again.

After every lesson,

recycle the paper.


Become two people.

Embody “dichotomy.”

Live your usual life

(wake, make coffee, brush your teeth)

while in your head

you are living the new one

(wake, make coffee, weed the garden).


Hold tight to the ordinary,

each routine a prayer,

while you mentally peel back your fingers,

slowly open your hand




4 thoughts on “How to Leave Your Life

  1. Kelli

    I should not have read this poem in class… I’ll blame my sniffling on recovering from a cold. New beginnings sure are exciting – and bittersweet.



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