I don’t know how things came to be
but their disintegration will
be witnessed, much as from the start
they offered hospitality
and even, later on, a thrill
or two for those who put the cart
before the horse and let it push:
We have surprises still. We fall
once we are old enough to know
better, we hear our footsteps crush
each idealistic principle
dropping into our path like snow,
we watch our friends die, we enlist
the hours of darkness to supply
our equilibrium—that fails—
so when the anti-matter mist
devours our universe, nearby
the seasoned ones will shed their veils
to get a better look, and think,
if thinking is their way to act,
how little we were grateful for
those interruptions in the blink
of time we had, and how we lacked
the grace to ignore.
from his chapbook Three Poems
Lestat Press, 1989
Used by permission of the poet.
Listen to John Gery reading his poem
“Speech for a Possible Ending”
by Laurie Williams
I would begin by having my students read this poem once silently.
Then as a class, we would read it aloud, taking turns at each line. As it was being read aloud, I would have my students circle words they were not familiar with or that were used in an unfamiliar way. They would also underline interesting words and phrases, and make note of any part that was confusing.
We would look at the structure of the poem and discuss the term sestet as a way of identifying six line stanzas.
We would also look at punctuation in this poem, especially the use of the colon in the second sestet and the dashes in the third sestet.
In more advanced classes, we would look at the rhythm and discuss tetrameter and the shortened final line.
Then we would look at the poem sentence by sentence, and discuss the effect of having two sentences in a twenty-four line poem.
We would make a note of the imagery and any literary devices.
I would ask my students to tell me which of the lines, images, phrases, or even individual words drew their attention.
We would also discuss the subject matter and how effectively the title points to and/or underscores the subject.
At the end if I were to assign some writing, I would have them write an explication of the poem.
Or I would have them write a poem about the end of the world and ending in general. They could use Mr. Gery’s poem as a model.
by Laurie Williams
After reading this poem aloud or as a homework assignment, students would look at various lines and discuss, write, or ponder the understanding and/or the implications of the line. This discussion could take place aloud in the classroom or in written form in an online classroom forum, or as a *duolog.
Students could look at the first line of the poem, “I don’t know how things came to be” and discuss what they understand and/or know of the early development of the universe.
The next line the students would ponder is the eighth, “We have surprises still.” And I would the students ponder, “What surprises, do you think, the scientific world could encounter in the near future? What is your basis for thinking that?”
Lines sixteen and seventeen, “so when the anti-matter mist/ devours our universe” lead to discussions of matter and antimatter. What is matter? What is antimatter? What is dark matter?
As a writing project, students could choose a scientific subject pertaining to the class and write a short essay or poem that demonstrates understanding of that subject.
*A duolog is a conversation between two students that occurs on paper. The first student writes a statement or a question and passes it to his or her partner and the second student responds and continues the conversation.
by Laurie Williams
Students could look at the number of words and the number of syllables in the entire poem.
What is the ratio of words to syllables?
What is the difference between the number of words per sestet (six line stanza)?
What is the difference between the number of syllables per sestet?
What is the difference between the number of words and/or syllables per punctuation (commas, dashes, colons, periods)?
As a crossover with an English or language arts class,
Students in the English class could identify nouns and adjectives and then in the math class could find the ratio of adjectives to nouns. They could also choose other parts of speech or the sentence, such as subjects or verbs, verbs to adjectives, nouns to verbs, linking verbs to action verbs, etc.
How often do verbs appear in the poem?