After the Dirt Falls Away

I never choose to write poetry for myself.

It is a genre of writing that has always made me feel weak and vulnerable, so why would I choose to write it? Why would I put it out into the world and risk the ultimate fear: that a reader who knows better would tell me that it’s not even poetry.

It doesn’t count. I don’t count. It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough. It’s terrible. I’m terrible.

So my personal relationship with writing poetry has always been that avoidance is better than rejection.

The only audience who has ever read my poetry is my students because I can’t, I won’t force them to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. So I write poetry with them, and I tell them that I’m a terrible poet and that it’s okay. But I don’t write poetry for myself because I am terrified.

I am terrified of this one genre in this larger craft that I have loved so deeply since the first time I picked up a pencil and scribbled stories in elementary school. I am terrified because even though I write and share my writing almost every single day, I will still never feel confident that my writing is worth reading or sharing, and that maybe I should stop trying so hard to love something that doesn’t always love me back. I am terrified because even if I can master the art of writing in a few genres, I will always chase poetry, never quite able to hold it in my arms and make it mine.

Yesterday, at the ICTE Writing Retreat, I wrote a poem. I think it’s a poem. I want it to count. I think it counts. I shared it with other writers. They did not laugh at me or my maybe-terrible poem. They encouraged me. They made suggestions. Their gentle response reminded me that there will always be a level of fear in writing and sharing writing. That’s what happens when you put a piece of yourself on the page; you love something enough that you risk exposing your true self, even if all of the cracks and weaknesses show through.

Here is my poem. I hope you like it. Maybe you won’t. I hope it’s worth reading. Maybe it’s a waste of your time. Maybe it’s not enough, or maybe it’s too much. I’m going to work on being okay with all of those possibilities when it comes to pushing myself as a writer.

After the Dirt Fell Away

Foot stuck in the water,

I meditated for a minute

before I realized I was in control, 

the only one capable 

of moving myself forward.

The muddy bank and the rocky grit

 made the water appear dirty.

I imagined I’d fill the small plastic cup 

with a sample of sludge, 

mirroring the lakes at home.

But it wasn’t.

The dirt fell to the bottom, 

the rest of the water unscathed, 

clean enough to appear 

like any other glass of water.

And if I put myself in that same cup,

would the dirt that’s been clinging 

for so long

finally fall away?

I could be the not-quite clear water,

grit settled at the bottom,

no longer the murky mess

of what I imagined myself to be.

Missy Springsteen-Haupt teaches middle school language arts at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Middle School. She has a passion for harassing other teachers to write and share their writings. She blogs about teaching, writing, and life at