“Needham Public Schools
February 11, 1998
It is a good week for a love story. The hero is fifth grader Michael
O’Toole. The setting is Joe Marino’s class. Characters include all of
Newman School staff who have worked with and supported Michael over
the years – especially Emily O’Malley.
Michael is a special boy who has had the courage and perseverance to
overcome many personal challenges. To meet him, you would not know
that he is a fighter. You could not appreciate the drama of the
struggle, or the determination and strength of his spirit.
But Michael has found a medium for his inner voice. It is poetry. This
week the Newman community rejoices in the person Michael has become.
Michael’s poem comes from a deep and personal place. Here are his
I am an ice cube trying to be “cool” in the heat of fads, and I am melting.
I am sunglasses, blocking out all the unwanted things in my life.
I am a rock, weighed down on the couch in front of the TV, in front of
just sitting there with nothing to do, nothing.
I am a feather. I am free, I am light, I am small. A feather is a form of peace.
I would never cause trouble.
A feather is supported by wind when it is floating.
My friends, family and pets give me love.
That is my wind.
This expression of self through metaphor captures Michael’s difficult
journey and triumphant transformation. Meeting Michael, through his
poem and in person, helps me understand poet, Boston University
Professor, and Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s claim that poetry is the
highest expression of literacy. Pinsky argues that the experience of
poetry “… Is deeply involved in the evolution of human intelligence.
Poetry,” says Pinsky, “is part of our first technology… Its medium
is the body of all its dimensions (physical, mental, and spiritual).”
It is awesome to see a young person like Michael use the technology so
powerfully. This poem is a great demonstration of Michael’s competence
with language and literacy, his creativity, and his self knowledge.
Boston Globe columnist and poet Patricia Smith spoke about creativity
as a keynote speaker for the regional College Board conference this
week in Boston. Here is what I took away from her comments:
“We don’t know where it begins… It may be when you discover a
wonderful word that you have to repeat a thousand times — a word like
“anemone” … Each person must look for something that unlatches the
door and causes the mind to soar… It is a leaning against the
boundaries grunting and pushing in unexpected directions.”
Michael’s door is unlatched. His mind, his whole self, is airborne —
he is the feather. But the struggle against his boundaries had to
happen first. Now his soaring is unstoppable.
As adults, we sometimes miss the unlatching of the door when it
happens for one of our students, or our own children. I am thrilled
that Michael’s words can remind us that this is the moment and the
miracle that we work for. We are part of Michael’s wind!
Current contact as of 2011 for
24-year-old Boston, MA Punk Poet Michael Phelan O’Toole: