October. My class is surprised to be released
from the room. We sit on unmown grass
in front of the school, gnarled braids of oak-tree
roots heave above the ground.
Court Street traffic flies by, ignoring the twenty-
five mph school zone sign. Some wave from the cars
whose horns beep in response to teens sitting
on a lawn, writing. I turn over a piece of oak bark,
small bore holes reveal ravages of insects, age. Someone
asks, How much time left? Stacey —always sullen,
always brilliant. We can be here for as long as we need,
or until the bell, I respond, or until I can write, I think.
She bends over her journal and continues putting
pen to paper. I watch her cross out what she just wrote,
draw arrows from one line to another. I can’t wait
to read the poem that comes from her effort.
Students watch leaves spiral, hunch over journals
hoping their minds will leak. A few do nothing,
this assignment too close or too mindless. Hey,
where were you yesterday? Tony asks, his hand
reluctant to write of his terrors and prejudices
for once. I look up from my empty page, the bark,
tree roots, spiraling leaves, and answer that yesterday
I was watching a friend hold back death.
But I don’t say that, really. Instead, I clear my throat
and tell him that I wiped my sick friend’s forehead
and read newspaper nonsense to her while she slept
and I cried. No, that is not what I said, either; but I do,
finally, explain how her dry palms pressed into mine
to convey what she could not of her viable life.
Actually, I say none of it. I rise from the roots,
toss the piece of bark onto the grass and reply,
I was out sick. I ask him, What have you written?
He closes his journal on one hastily scrawled line,
and says, Nothing. There’s nothing to write.
But the next day he produces a poem about why
a teacher would lie to him. That he didn’t think this
teacher had been sick, but had some important
business to attend to and chose not to reveal it
to a student. But he forgave her — he was, after all,
only a student who had already absolved his favorite
teacher for not telling him the truth.
Previously published in U.S. 1 Worksheets, Spring, 2011
Marie Kane was diagnosed with MS in 1991. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a Pennsylvania Bucks County Poet Laureate, and the author of three chapbooks. In 2017, Kelsay Books published her full-length collection, Beauty, You Drive a Hard Bargain. She is the final judge of the Sarah Mook National Scholastic poetry contest and lives in Yardley, Pa.
Poet’s Corner is curated by Bucks County Poet Laureate Tom Mallouk and supported by a grant to the Bucks County Herald Foundation made possible by Marv and Dee Ann Woodall.