Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A poem, or "Public school is hell"


I've been busy doing "Damn Yankees!" and substitute teaching, so the blog has been a little neglected. But today I was digging through some old poems and came across this one, so I thought I'd share. I wrote it while I was doing my substitute teaching back in 2012. I was focusing a lot on imagery at the time, and it's not my best work, but it kind of stood out to me today; I think because I've been spending time in public schools again lately. 

Dante’s Industrial Kitchen

Steam rises
in ephemeral bursts
mushrooming out from the
heinous, Dante-esque mouth
of the automatic dishwasher.

A school cafeteria is full of medieval hell-mouths.

Dirt is fed into it on a conveyor belt
and with every hiss and puff of super-heated steam,
trays come out clammy and sanitized from the other end.

A middle-aged woman
with outdated pants and keys on a lanyard in her pocket
stacks the trays with no expression.
Her feet hurt. This is her job.
Her non-slip shoes make sucking sounds
as she steps through soapy puddles
to the sink.
Rubs her red-cracked hands on a paper towel
and begins stacking trays again.

The kids with IEPs
walk from the dishwasher to the sink
and back again
like the tigers in city zoos
who have developed obsessive-compulsive disorders
in the absence of higher stimulation
walking back and forth and back and forth
repeating a task they are destined to repeat.

And there are all these kids,
standing in line.
The tills fill up as we
perpetuate the illusion of them walking
in empty and coming out full.
They check their phones and stare into space and
talk to each other but not to the girl whose shoes are too big.
They stand with the rain from the courtyard
on their shoulders,
the heat of the room making steam to rise
in ephemeral snaking columns.

(In a shameless bit of self-promotion, if you're interested in more of my poetry, I have a published book of it! You can buy it here, or on Or if we're friends and I see you regularly, I've got a dozen copies or so I can give out--just ask.)

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