128.1: Brian Henry:: Home School
4 February 2013
A planet, a bug, a First Lady, math, "a clean hole," a quote from his life home schooling his children, and a Dictionary.com word of the day. Nine sentences in each of nine sections. Within this formally informal (or informally formal) structure, Brian Henry probes the limits of what we know and how we decide what we know. At the center of this poem is what is absent: Pluto, the former ninth planet. What most of us learned growing up about our solar system is now defunct, and as Henry sits at his kitchen table teaching his children about the world, he finds that he is "[s]ome scapegrace over-exerting himself, suffering around the yard." The facts and statements in this poem accumulate much as a teacher attempts to provide the required and necessary information to a young student. But rather than illuminating the world, this accumulation boggles the mind, facts are left to float disconnected from the reason we might need to know them: "Uranus’ rings go like this. Push outward toward less. A googol divided by ten is a dogillion." What we realize is that our understanding of the world is dependent on what we call the world: is Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? If the former, we include it in the lesson plan and on the test. If the latter, we all but forget it exists. Henry brings us to understanding by returning us to the viewpoint of the young student: bright eyed, curious, perpetually confused, but determined to make some sense of this crazy world.