Eighth Grade Bio

Nina Alvarez

When the caterpillar is crawling in the dish, do not measure it with your ruler. Do not classify it according to the phases of growth illustrated in the chart in your book. These were the things of seventh grade. Now you are in eight grade and must interact with the caterpillar on a new level.


First, stand here in front of its green face. STARE at the caterpillar and wonder what IT feels like.


You will think, because you aren’t listening, that I have asked you to consider the species, the type of cocoon he will build, what he eats, his mating habits. Like many of you, caterpillars are not yet capable of sexual reproduction. But this is not the kind of thing I am asking at this time.


Your job is to be with the caterpillar as it is. To feel what the caterpillar feels as it rolls its legs across the white dish. To measure, as it were, a depth of awareness unspeakable, undeterminable except as subjective nuance. You must access a sort of internal ruler, without numbers, but with a definite sense of calibration and sensitivity to weigh. A different type of weight, mind you, a weight of … no, not emotion, you have plenty of that already. It’s more a weight like gratitude. Think of someone, your grandmother, your dad, your best friend, someone who did something for you and you felt gratitude, that particular moment of appreciation to the exclusion of all other things, a singular focused celebratory awareness of the existence of one thing.


You are saying―I hear you in the back―How the hell can I feel gratitude for a caterpillar? But I haven’t finished, and also, please see me after this class. See, the sense of gratitude is only an approximation, a way to trigger some part of your still-developing brain that will actually act as an evolutionary tool later – I mean this in the metaphysical sense as well as the physical one.


Yes, I see some of you are almost doing it. You have to be very much in your body and yet just above it, very aware of your hands and the tingling in them – do you feel the tingling? Well, keep trying, then remember to hold this sensation, keep your attention focused on the insect, and feel your aliveness simultaneously. Your aliveness and the caterpillar’s aliveness. Yes.


Yes, I see you others rolling your eyes back there. Maybe this is too advanced for you. Maybe we need to send you back to the seventh grade. What do you think? No? Well then try again.


You are embarrassed. This is also a jumping off point. It helps to feel very alone, very aware of how apart it is from you and how apart you are from the people around you.


Now forget the classroom, only just, yes, just laser focus your attention on the caterpillar. Without judgment. I know it’s hard. To pay attention without judging must be constantly relearned. Do you feel something in you arising besides the normal judgments?


All right, that’s the bell.  


Were you able to do it? Did you pass or fail? Do we need to keep you here?


 About the Writer
Split Lip Magazine

Nina Alvarez's short fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction have appeared in Prick of the Spindle, The Sonder Review, Electric Velocipede, Danse Macabre, and numerous other print and online journals. Her short play "Type Writer" was accepted into the 2014 Geva 2 Pages/2 Voices Festival, and in 2013 her play "The Life of Leo Wool" was produced by the GRRC in Rochester, New York. Nina is an award-winning teacher and poet, founding publisher of Canvas Teen Literary Journal, and is currently launching Cosmographia Books: a hybrid, boutique publisher of spiritual and literary fare. She makes her living as a professional editor, intuitive authorship coach, and publishing consultant with her author services business Dream Your Book.