"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more—that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"

From Shel Silverstein: Poems and Drawings; originally appeared in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Copyright © 2003 by HarperCollins Children's Books. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

The yellow mouth of the school bus opened 
to eat him, and he slumped into the fractured plastic 
of his seat, knowing at the next stop the boy 
with the fingers chopped off at the knuckles 

would climb into the bus like a panther among squirrels, 
take the seat behind him, and grind the whitened stumps 
into the back of his head, while he flinched. 
What combination of starry omens and planetary dread, 

of boxcars and snake eyes, could have spun the world 
inside this child’s heart to such daily vicious thrill 
at the despair of other children, the ones with perfect hands?
At lunch, huddled with friends by the mahogany-stained 

folded-up bleachers in the gym, he tried to ask them, 
but they studied dented apples and plastic-wrapped sandwiches
in wincing silence. In their minds the awful hand was reaching 
over the ruptured and taped upholstery again 

and scraping like a bone bow across their resisting bodies,
grating out the thin music of their screams, these beautiful little 
boys and girls who flinched away from the stumps of his loss.
They also had suffered the knuckle torture, also had avoided 

the bus home, preferring to stumble through the cut black
stubble of the cornfields and be late for dinner, 
but they could say nothing. He was a fact of life, 
like brain-eating bacteria. So the boy came up 

with his own scenarios for what violence 
had severed that hand. A bad cut on a table saw 
that spritzed the sawdust red. Freak guillotining 
by falling glass. Psycho stepfather with a hatchet. 

And often he wondered, what did they do with the severed
digits? Did they keep them strangely preserved 
in formaldehyde, floating and pointing everywhere 
and nowhere in the green liquid of a screw-top jar? 

Or did they bury them in a small box, out in a field 
somewhere, or in the backyard by the oak tree 
like a time capsule floating in earth through decades 
in which that sad and terrible boy was fated to be 

the asshole of every story?—a tiny coffin in a makeshift 
graveyard where those fingers wait for the rest of him 
to join them, those pallid fetuses, those curling orchids, 
those question marks, the pale nails growing into hooks.

Copyright © 2022 by Tony Barnstone. This poem was first printed in MQR: Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Winter 2022). Used with the permission of the author. 

Somehow that shriveled arm
seemed the perfect arm
for tracing the odd shapes of geometry
in white on our black chalkboard
showing us a woman could do
this unwomanly thing
and sometimes a girl would let out a giggle
almost like a pig squeak
and our teacher would stop, chalk
in her lifted hand
and her back would stiffen
as she turned and glared at us

then returned
to tracing out her mysteries
we girls thought
meant math is for old maids
dries women out
so they can’t want the only things
that seemed worth wanting—
happy grins in the hallways
and dark back seats where his warm breath
made the short hair on our napes stand up

and so we would come back to be scolded
and any boy in the class
knew better what any kind of triangle was
or how to add the sides up
into answers that were her kind
of “I do”

and some days she put the chalk
down on her desk
and told us how her father
scalded her with boiling water
and her arm contracted in its healing
but we barely listened

because a small white note was moving
across the room 
toward the last seat by the window
and she didn’t notice
since she was back at the blackboard
back at the numbers she loved
and we were girls
who knew nothing at all.

From I Have Tasted the Apple (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1996) by Mary Crow. Copyright © 1996 by Mary Crow. Used with the permission of the publisher

“I don’t know what to tell you.
Your daughter doesn’t understand
math. Numbers trouble her, leave
her stuck on ground zero.”

                               Y fueron los mayas
                               quienes imaginaron el cero,
                               un signo para nada, para todo,
                               en sus gran calculaciones.

                Is zero the velvet swoop into dream,
                the loop into plumes of our breath?

“I suggest you encourage languages.
Already she knows a little Spanish,
and you can teach her more of that.
She lives for story time.”

                In the beginning there was nothing.
                Then the green of quetzal wings.

                               Las historias siguen cambiando,
                               sus verdades vigorizadas
                               con cada narración
                               como X x X = X2

From Boomerang. Copyright © 2009, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom 
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that 
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie 
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question. 
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

Reprinted from Cold Pluto by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press. Copyright © 1996 by Mary Ruefle.

Let us begin with a simple line,
Drawn as a child would draw it, 
To indicate the horizon,

More real than the real horizon,
Which is less than line,
Which is visible abstraction, a ratio.

The line ravishes the page with implications
Of white earth, white sky!

The horizon moves as we move, 
Making us feel central.
But the horizon is an empty shell—

Strange radius whose center is peripheral.
As the horizon draws us on, withdrawing, 
The line draws us in, 

Requiring further lines, 
Engendering curves, verticals, diagonals,
Urging shades, shapes, figures…

What should we place, in all good faith,
On the horizon? A stone?
An empty chair? A submarine?

Take your time. Take it easy. 
The horizon will not stop abstracting us.

From Resurrection Updated: Collected Poems 1975-1997 by James Galvin. Copyright © 1997 by James Galvin. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Many decades after graduation
the students sneak back onto
the school-grounds at night
and within the pane-lit windows
catch me their teacher at the desk
or blackboard cradling a chalk:
someone has erased their youth,
and as they crouch closer to see
more it grows darker and quieter
than they have known in their lives,
the lesson never learned surrounds
them: why have they come? Is
there any more to memorize now
at the end than there was then—
What is it they peer at through shades
of time to hear, X times X repeated,
my vain efforts to corner a room’s
snickers? Do they mock me? Forever?
Out there my past has risen in
the eyes of all my former pupils but
I wonder if behind them others
younger and younger stretch away
to a day whose dawn will never
ring its end, its commencement bell.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Knott. Reprinted with permission of Saturnalia Books.

I am pledging allegiance to the flag
in the basement classroom when
my crewcut friend appears at the door
with a message. He whispers to the teacher

who motions to me and I learn that
my dog has followed me to school.
What an occasion, that above all the other
scents in the world, all the other

high-topped sneakers, he has found me out
I learn that he has already made it through
the first grade, where he has
muddied a teacher’s dress with his dark paws.

I imagine his journey as he runs down
the long corridors that smell of chalk dust
and institutional cleanser, cantering
past the principal’s office, the holy of holies,

where the records are kept. I see him sniffing
at the blunt toed shoes of the army
of teachers who find him.
He wags his tail when he sees me, but I am

overcome with my notoriety. Why did you
follow me, why single me out? I get the dog
and put him out the front entrance.
Go home, I tell him, go on home, ignoring

his optimistic eyes, shutting
the great wooden doors
on that part of me that is
without a collar and wild.

Copyright © Stuart Kestenbaum. From House of Thanksgiving (Deerbrook Editions, 2003). Used with permission of the author.