Dissecting Tone and Mood: Passengers on the Train of Life

Last Friday, December 9, both classes and I tackled imagery, tone and mood. The classes were heavy, hence the length of this post. Part of the gravity was due to the content of one of the poems we read, Nicole Breedlove’s, An Open Letter to Myself, which begins, “I didn’t mean for it to happen like this…my life that is.” Breedlove’s poem chronicles some extenuating times, battling hunger, homelessness and danger. The students pointed out the anger, sadness and frustration laden in the tone and the overall mood of fear and helplessness. After discussing the tonal messages of the poem, the class identified the imagery present: the speaker laying alongside 12 cats, eating spaghetti and ketchup, sleeping on the D train. To contrast, I asked the students to calm their minds and bodies: put down pens or pencils, and close their eyes, so they could focus and listen to me as I read the next piece.

This one, Night Train, by Anne Marie Cusack was very different from the previous one, but utilized a similar metaphor (the train). In Night Train, a passenger sitting on the train observes another passenger and quickly becomes a part of the narrative she herself is constructing, when the child of the other passenger climbs into her lap.

Tamara gave an impressive summary of the poem, putting herself in the place of the speaker as her eyes were closed. As I read, the students were able to see the woman board the train with her two children, and bags (of groceries, we presumed). They saw the woman fall asleep while her baby, resting on her chest, fed from a bottle; they saw the cornrowed headed baby climb into the lap of the speaker, pointing, slapping the window and pulling her hair. Perhaps the most important element they perceived, however, was the implied message in the piece: why the stranger participated in the mother’s life/journey in that moment. One student stated “Everybody needs help sometimes.” The mother, perhaps a single mother, perhaps homeless, was obviously tired from her day and it did not take much for a stranger to give the mother a moment to catch her breath, to rest.

After all, many of us who ride the train know­­­- that ride can mean chaos, but it can also mean calm when you need it the most. At the end of a long day, taking that last empty seat, maybe the first you’ve taken all day, could be the sweetest refuge, the laughter of a child, a soothing reinforcement of hope, the fellow passenger sleeping across from you, proof that we are all just trying to get home, wherever that is, and we are in this together. My 6th, 7th, and 8th graders’ understanding of this and their ability to juxtapose the tone of both poems was a valuable part of the lesson. Night Train, was described as sweet, calm and quiet, in contrast to the volatile Open Letter

Before writing, I shared a cure for “writers block”. “You will never have writer’s block if only you are willing to write the truth”, and as Open Letter…states, “…If it must be told, I’m telling you…” There is power and value in owning your own story, your own identity. And EVERY story matters.

We all have our truths and sometimes they are difficult ones…but as the writing prompt we used to get us started told us, the good and bad in our lives make us the beautiful human beings we are. The students were asked to write about what they would like to be remembered about them or their lives or what they would like to remain unsaid or forgotten. I gave the students more time to write and denoted time for them to go back and make line breaks and stanzas and to edit while considering other poetic elements that we have discussed in previous weeks.

At the end of both sessions, students shared their work. The work was highly emotional for a few students, so we exercised what we had learned earlier in the session; everybody needs help sometimes. The latter class with 7th and 8th grade ended in embraces and some words of wisdom from Mrs. Dydo regarding compassion and community.

This week, a few students asked to remain anonymous. I have respected their right to agency, and have chosen to showcase students whose words spoke to me and honored the dichotomy of the lesson…to make something of the good and the bad in life everyday…Thank you for bearing with me. Please enjoy.

8th Grade

Cordell P.

I want it to be told that I really love
basketball and that I was a math genius.
I want it to be told that everyone
likes my hair, my smile, and my

I want to mention that I was always
one of the best basketball players in the
school. I want to mention how I was
the class clown but still getting good grades.

Jessica V.
Me Myself and I

I want it to be told that I’m a wonderful girl and I love reading.
I also like to dance and be with my best friend Ashley.
I also like good grades and I practice hard,
I love to make my parents happy about myself.
I also love hot wings and different kinds of foods
I like to try new things. I love sports
and I also want to say that I like all my teachers
for all their support and help but the
one that means the most to me is Ms. Dydo.
I also love my family and dogs.

6th Grade

Cherif H.

I want to remember
when I grow up that
teachers and my parents
are not mean. They’re
strict because they
want the best of
me and they want me
to go somewhere in
life. Then when I
choose to listen to
them when I grow up
I could be mayor
or president or I could
represent something.
I want people to
look up to me and
say I want to be just
like him. I could be the
one begging for money
because I didn’t want to
listen to the people who
want the best for me
everybody just wants the
best for everyone.

Amarion T.

I want it to be told that I am trying my very best
to do everything I can. I’m smart, I play games,
basketball, I’m nice, helpful, and sometimes I
get mad.

Kori R.

I want to mention that I am a good
listener and I’m very loyal. I’ve never
talked back to a teacher and I’m
on the honor roll. I have a great
personality is what I’ve been told. I’m
a great friend if you must know.

Aniya C.

I want it to be told that I am very kind
loving and I depend on my family and friends
like they depend on me. I have a lot of love
to go around. Plenty to share.
Like God is everywhere, I am everywhere too
What I don’t want to be said is all of the
grades and bad decisions I have done in the
past. Well the past is gone. It is
the future but I am the same silly old
Aniya, but better.

Kamara M.

I want it to be told that I am a good big sister
I don’t want it to be said that sometimes I
do some mean things to my little brother but I
want to mention that if you ever mess with him.

Vonique Q.

I want it to be told that
I’m not always a great daughter
sister and all that but you
know what I’m good at…
Its called being me, listening
and telling people my story.
so hey, you don’t have
to be outstanding for people
to like you or to be the best
all you have to do is be

7th Grade

Tamia R.
My Life

I want it to be
told that I tried my
hardest to fix everything,
I don’t want it to
be said that I cried
my way out of everything,
I want to mention
that I love my life
and I am grateful for
what I have

Kayonna W.
Me to You

I don’t want it to be said…
that I can sing
that I still believe in Santa
His magic, it still goes around
I don’t want it to be said…
that sometimes I wish I was on a different planet
I don’t want it to be said…
that I only have 4 real friends who care about me
I don’t want it to be said…
that I hate when people talk about me
and they know there’s something wrong with them too

Janiyah C.

I want to mention that,
I am who I am
I want to mention that,
can’t nobody change me
I want to mention that,
I am smart & a woman
I want to mention that,
you can become whoever you wanna be
I want to mention that,
I am one as all
I want to mention that.

Maurice F.
What I Know

I want to mention that I’m
A good person and heart
I’m a man of my word
and I try to do what I can to help
or what I’m able to do
and that’s what I want to mention.

Monique J.
I Want it to be Told not for it to be Showed

I want it told
that I am a
beautiful person, young,
nice and very helpful
I don’t want it to
be said that I am
bad, have a very
nasty attitude, I
can be disrespectful
At times

The things I want
to be mentioned is, “She
really liked playing basketball,
she dressed very well,
she like dancing and being
around her family”



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.