The poemarnator? Absolutely
An item in "This Week in Concord History" in the Hunkette issue causes me to abandon my usual grammarnating and offer a poem that I wrote some years ago. On Dec. 27, 1985, Christa
McAuliffe gave "her last press conference before setting out for Florida and final preparations for the launch of the Challenger."
My poem, you see, was about another press conference, an imaginary one that she was giving at the end of her year traveling the country, speaking and giving lessons on behalf of NASA and space exploration. I had spent a year with every attempt at writing ending up unsuccessful. The sorrow - and even more, the anger - I had felt since the day in the balcony at Concord High with my students when I saw the shuttle explode on television - kept hindering artistic expression. I could get past those emotions only by imagining that the explosion had not happened and that she her voice could be speaking to us still. Then the poem developed fairly easily, although it has been revised with small changes several times in the last 25 years.
Here's The Last Press Conference Before Returning to Concord High: What she might have said.
"It's going to be wonderful to see us as a people with no boundaries. I can't wait to bring back that humanistic spirit."
- S. Christa McAuliffe
What did I want?
Call it contact.
Reaching students - teaching
across space, not in it.
Bridging and closing gaps.
I teach history; I touch the
A particular being in this place,
at that time. What was felt and done.
How some lived, through
deeds or words,
across gaps of time.
I teach how history might start small,
ordinary, almost unseen: desert star-trackers
and a wailing newborn.
I go with my family to church.
History is process. Who I am
has not been caught
in all your words and
So let me teach.
Poetry works through metaphor and allusion. Those who have trouble understanding parts of the poem might be helped if I point out that line 5 was suggested by the saying associated with Christa: "I touch the future. I teach." (The closeness in sound of the words "touch" and "teach" is itself poetic). Also, the word "contact" appears partly because it is the title of Carl Sagan's novel about extra-terrestrials getting in touch with our species and thus another reference to space (as well as being the biggest bridging of a gap imaginable). And the "desert star-trackers" are the Magi seeking Christ, "the wailing newborn." The reference to them connects Christa's church-going in the present to an event almost 2000 years earlier and underlines the poem's major theme, the way in which the past does not die but continues to be essential to our understanding and behavior in the present. The poem is meant to be a tribute to Christa's specific teaching field and, implicitly, to all teachers who seek to establish contact with their students.