March 26, 2023

Among Children

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.