Scraps of Paper

Joan Countryman

Omar was a scholar who

kept his notes on scraps 

of paper when he could 

or wrote with ashes on 

a prison wall if that was 

all he had to record

his birthplace his family 

his studies in arithmetic 

in philosophy, in agriculture 

theology his language 

his travel to foreign lands 

his voyage on a great ship 

across the great sea  

enslaved in North America

on scraps of paper a record of 

his labor in Charleston 

his escape to North Carolina  

his recapture in a church

in Fayetteville slips of paper 

with his list of manuscripts  

his notes in Arabic not 

recognized by infidels

but to be found in a box 

in some attic 

some centuries later 

People enslaved in America 

learned to read and write 

at their peril their teachers 

considered criminals 

A century later 

when I read ahead in 

the second-grade reader 

I had to dust the closet.

After thirty-five years of teaching mathematics and leading schools, then retiring from the daily life of school but not from thinking about teaching and learning, Joan Countryman has turned to writing poems. Poetry for her is a lot like mathematics: a way of making sense of the world. She wishes the discourse on education were more about democracy and less about saving money. She believes that the future of every country depends on access to strong public education for all children. In her poems the child who read ahead in the reader, the sixties activist turned teacher, the mother and grandmother, the seeker, records insights and memories, fancies and dreams of a future of justice for everyone.