While Reciting Robert Hayden

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While reciting Robert Hayden whose father got up early in the blueblack cold,
to the fifth grade, an announcement. Lockdown, the secretary says, then repeats it
like she doesn’t believe herself. Pink sneakers tuck under tables, followed by little
combat boots. When the teacher turns the blinds I sink down wondering where
to put my hands. The classroom door is before me; behind it stands the gunman.
In his brain, a red pearl has formed around an itch of sand. Between us, twenty
children poke each other’s sides trying not to giggle. Their beds are filled with
elephants and missing socks. I make thirty dollars an hour teaching them.

I prepare myself because who wouldn’t try to save even the cruelest boy,
the one who hates the women teachers, plays pistol with his finger and keeps me
always in his sights? You are nothing, he whispers when I pick up the chalk.

The door wrenches from its frame. It is filled with a man the size of all the places
I want to hide. Of course it’s the principal saying good job like we all did our math
homework. Good job staying quiet and small while a flinty beast snorted outside,
gnashing teeth and seething, but not today making news.
Little hands straighten sweaters and rearrange pencil cases as I complete my lesson
on fathers raising sons, on the austere and lonely offices of love.