Swan Song

After the first year teaching at my current school, we lost a student to a tragic accident. It was the first student I had lost, and the first funeral I had attended in this town. After her death I wanted to honor her with this poem.When I see tundra swans on Lake Roosevelt I always think of her.

Swan Song
in memory of S.A. Swan
A Sacred Place On Lake Roosevelt
Don’t apologize for the day you allowed your sister to
mark in that brand new book,
Remember, I wanted you to take it home
and practice reading it to her.

Don’t apologize for the day your mother arrived
to visit your teachers at school.
You were good to steady her when
she stumbled and slurred her words.

Don’t apologize for the day you forgot the words
from a story you composed in class.
Remember, we wrote them, whispered them,
wrestled with them to help you feel the sound.

Don’t apologize for the day after recess when
I had to send someone for you.
Because your other teacher kept you in your seat,
redoing that ditto ‘till you got it right.

Don’t apologize for the day you never appeared,
missing Indian tacos for lunch.
Remember, it was the day your mother returned
to the rez after rehab once again.

Don’t apologize for the day at summer school when
the children heard of your death
We tried to read, we tried to write,
but ended up seeing you.

Don’t apologize for leaving before I could say
how much I loved your spirit.
Remember, S.A., you were a fragile duckling,
beginning to become a swan.


  1. Wow, what a great poem. I'm so glad you are sharing some of your writings, since I haven't seen them, or it has been a long time.

  2. Your post has made me teary --- a life shortened needlessly is such a sad thing. Reading your poem reminded me of the first student of mine who passed away. She was one of my FHA officers and a girl with such wonderful potential. I loved her dearly and we would enjoy visiting together during lunch and after school on many days. She went on to community college and became involved with a group who went out to party by the river. She climbed up a high power tower near the dam and fell off. So sad and so needless! Although I know that each individual makes their own choices, I always wondered if there had been more I could have said or done to help her avoid the trap of alcohol. Pensive and reflective today --- thank you for sharing your beautiful poem.

  3. I remember when the first of the students I'd taught in Malawi had died. Your poem is a lovely memorial and tribute and its nice that you have the swans as a reminder.

  4. Heartwarming poem. I am sorry for your loss.


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