Teaching My Granddaughter to Read
An Ecology Poem
She rejects the over-used, colorless,
school room words. The single syllables.
The rude guttural stutter of short a, e
and u. Instead she memorizes
the blossoming pages of my gardening
catalog: chrysanthemum, nasturtium,
hyacinth. Phonics of stamen and petal.
I explain words are patterned on sound
and shape. Readers need to know
the hum of m and the hollow o
in order to master books. She looks at me
as if I’ve lost my mind, missed the whole
point, and enunciates perennial, herbaceous.
Not for her the cat-and-dog pages. Mother-
and-father chapters looking nothing
like her family. She continues
to delve. Never guesses. Recognizes
days later vernal and autumnal. Labors
to train phrases together: After last frost.
Thin to twelve inches apart.
And water. We both work hard
on water with its attendant good
drainage and irrigate at evening. She
wakes eager for the glossy pages
with photos of last May and all the Junes
to come. Our fingers leave smudges
where willing seeds sprout. Why wouldn’t
an author write lithospermum and hellebore?
Why shouldn’t someone six
learn how earth is meant to be read?
by Joanne M. Clarkson
Editor’s Note: This poem’s cornucopia of sound forms the backbone of a relationship between the speaker and her granddaughter—one must go slow because of the consonants, but also because the story deserves the kind of careful attention a grandmother gives to her granddaughter.