A writer, brilliant on schools,
said in surprise, that he felt safe walking
among children on South Bronx streets.
With 50 kids, just off an A Train, I felt
a thing brush my cheek, a dark face
shone between cars picking up speed.
One of the girls came up
with a heavy paperclip,
“He was shooting you! Mr. K–,
you best be careful down here…”
Another voice, “You walkin’ us all
the way to Lenox in this heat? Shoot,
you better try and get us started.”
And war. The 8th graders have lived
whole lives in a nation at war
it will not declare, or ask of us
a declaration. Or tax. The children talk
as they understand: “It’s like
you told us about Brave New World,
Huxley and the 7 years war, poison gas,
the foot that lands in the garden,
they wanted war to stop, so do we
have homework? … then, what is it?”
The 8th grade entered Rm. 318
in groups or singly, after lunch,
ten minutes early for class, big voiced or silent,
and as if small furnaces had been lit in each,
some curled up to warm themselves,
some came to a rolling boil.
A year later, they pass me in the hall
and smile, or drop their eyes,
or slap the palm I stretch to them,
or stare straight past the tall man
they had known, once,
when they were young.
Three of the 8th graders have a ballgame
after school, and I’m invited.
The girls play with sweat and play to win.
At this age the level of play is less
than its importance is in life. The sky
above Central Park is brilliant, as if
it had chosen to be the very place
a white ball could rise in searching
open grass to land in, clearing the bases.
Last night Henry wrote “of the river rising
at last above its banks, and my spirits
rise with it.” After graduation
a girl who spoke little,
more often leaving than arriving,
pushed forward her younger brother
who, without a pause, “what a wonder
her teacher was this year, caring,
sensitive, inspiring,” grinning, the boy
stood like a red and white can
spraying whipped cream, then they left:
he the adverb, his sister the verb.
Kip Zegers is from Chicago, educated at John Carroll University and Northwestern University. He was a VISTA volunteer living and working in central Harlem from 1966-67 and then attended Union Theological Seminary, applied for and received Conscientious Objector status. He has published three full length volumes and six chapbooks, most recently The Poet of Schools, Dos Madres Press, 2013 and The Pond in Room 318, Dos Madres, 2015. He began teaching at Hunter College H. S., a public high school for gifted students, in 1984. Teaches now at SAGE and New York Hospital Community Outreach.