Love and Fishes

We were a small class last night: Yenny, Muy Chen, Miao, Dariusz and Wilson.  Jason came, but disappeared at break — a too-often problem with him.

We’ve been working on Octavio Paz’s “My Life with the Wave.”¹  I’ve always loved this story.  I first read it forever ago when I was teaching high school, discovered it at the same time as Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”²

 I always see something new when I read this story, and I love trying to talk about it with students, listening to them try to dismiss it, try to make it make sense, drag themselves (sometimes kicking and screaming) into beautifully incandescent light bulb moments about the wave, about how the story might just work after all.

And last night was better than usual.  They reached a few conclusions — really sophisticated conclusions — that none of my classes has ever reached on their own before.

This is, of course, a thing I love.  Utterly.  And even more because it’s my night class, the kids, the reject ones who supposedly can’t handle this kind of work, the ones who many schools would encourage to drop out.  Take that, impatient system with your inflexibility and unwillingness to see how delightful and eager and smart these kids are.

his life with the wave
sunlight and laughter, conch and fish
until jealousy
how do you embrace a wave
how do you reach her blue heart


¹  Do you know this story?  If not, you can read it here.

²  Another amazing and mind-altering story that is so wonderful to use with students … especially when so many of them are devoutly religious (and you can read it here.


6 thoughts on “Love and Fishes

  1. Thanks for sharing. I had not read this before, but read it three times today. I would love to hear what conclusions your students came to.

    “Entered in her waters, I was drenched to the socks and in a wink of an eye I found myself up above, at the height of vertigo, mysteriously suspended, to fall like a stone and feel myself gently deposited on the dryness, like a feather.”

    I love the visualization of this line.


    1. I’m so glad you liked the story, Tisha. It always amazes me, and his descriptions are glorious.

      Usually when I use this story in class, students need pushing from me, need help suspending their disbelief, to really read the story as it’s written, that a man is having an affair with a wave … and then to take that apart and see some of the things Paz is maybe trying to say to us. This group of students, however, didn’t need any prodding from me. They walked themselves through the whole range of the discussion with only the occasional guiding question from me. It was really wonderful to listen to. Yenny, who in some ways is my most grounded-in-reality student, had the hardest time getting started, but once Miao and Wilson started talking about the idea of the wave leaving the sea to be with the man and how that sounded to them like a young woman separating from her over-protective family … Yenny was in. It was a great discussion!


  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You bring up exactly what I fight for in the classroom. There are no rejects – if you press students, they will rise with you if you build up their confidence and give them numerous times to try to fly, and a place of grace to land if they fall.

    I use Paz’s Poet’s Epitaph in addition to Garcia’s work – and it frustrates and yet exposes the willing to a totally different world they haven’t tried before.

    Learning is so fun to watch!


    1. Thanks, Julie! I’ll have to look at “Poet’s Epitaph” and maybe bring that into the class as a follow up to working on this story. This group loves poetry, so that might be a nice next move. The “Very Old Man” story is really a favorite, I love the conversations that come out of that story.


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