when your favorite teacher of all time is dying

May 7, 2008

i just found out yesterday that p. green is dying of stage 4 brain cancer.  p. green, my high school english teacher.  p. green, the invincible, stronger-than-words black woman, always with a shock of unruly hair (think don king) and and equally unruly, unconventional teaching style that combined a little intimidation with tough love and equal parts passion and brilliance. 

she taught me to be unashamed to write.  she taught me it is okay to be unabashedly smart.  she taught me it is okay to go into the world and do what you love, no matter what people say or think.  she taught me to love learning.  she taught me that i was pretty alright.  for a white girl.  seriously though, she taught me i was really loved and important and that my life mattered, that everyone’s life matters.

every teacher i’ve ever had is suspended in my mind, un-aging, un-dying.  like a mountain in the landscape of my learning.  because they are part of me forever, i guess i just sort of thought they would be in the world forever.  but even mountains meet the ocean at some point. 

and so p. green will soon merge into the great deep.  and it is just too soon.  i always thought she would be one of those maya angelou-esque elders, spreading unapologetic wisdom and inspiring many more generations of writers.  i thought she would be a grandmother.  i surely did not think that the last time i saw her would be the LAST time i saw her.

it was five or six years ago, maybe longer.  i went to the high school where she was a principal and sat in her office for close to an hour, chatting.  “kelly wolf, are you writing?” she asked.  “well…” i stammered, “a little…in my journal.  and maybe a little poetry now and then…”  but that was a lie.  the truth was that i was so lost and i had put writing, the great compass of my life, in a drawer somewhere and forgotten it.  i was depressed and aimless.  i was desperately trying to remember who i was.  and the only things i was writing were checks. 

she looked into my face for an elongated, slightly uncomfortable moment.  “THAT is NOT what i mean, kelly wolf.”  i was busted.  i suddenly felt like i was fourteen years old again, getting caught skipping class in the girls bathroom.  “you need to WRITE.  you know you are a writer, don’t you?  you are a wonderful writer.  keep writing.  write, write, write.  promise me you will WRITE!” she commanded in her inimitable, unmistakable voice that echoed down the halls of every school she inhabited, somehow finding its way into every corner, every classroom.  there was never any question if p. green was in the building.

and so, p. green, you are in a coma in a hospital and your family has respectfully requested that there be no visitors.  cancer is devouring your gorgeous mind.  and i cannot visit you and tell you that i am writing.  but i tell you, i am writing, p. green, i am writing!  i know you can hear me.  i am writing, i am writing, and i will not stop!  i promise you.

this one, p. green, is for you:

Sometimes a body


kin lie somewheres a long time

and not see.  And then one morn’—

maybe it’s early and the dew

ain’t dried up yet and the mist she lies

on yonder hill like a brand-new wife

atop her brand-new husband and

all them trees thar inna field

give their shinin’ leaves like a offerin’

to a brand-new sky— and in one

holy moment a body rises up

a-seein’ and a-seein’

and ain’t nothin’

inna whole world

kin stop it.



One Response to “when your favorite teacher of all time is dying”

  1. patience said

    i know p. green is proud, even now, making her transition to a new light…blessings on you both.

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