Juvenile Hall Teacher
Back from a 12-hour pass, My student lays her Camel on the desk. The thin smoke rises in a rope that flutters A little to her breathing, and her look Beneath makeup like crayoning is not The scared look of the cornered animal I have prepared for, but a knowing smile. Maria's twelve, a prostitute, And tortures pets from curiosity. Trailing her sleeping bag from one abandoned Building to another, Like a comic-strip Linus with his blanket, She's come home forever To serving lines and dayroom television And parents with solid black ties. I yawn, tell her to put the cigarette out And go and wash her face-- Maria with the tear A cellmate tattooed on her cheek, Bleeding before she has begun to bleed. I offer her the chance to be like me, Adult, in institutional repose. Instead, she pulls her blouse up, Sticks her prepubescent breasts out, her idea Of a taunt? A sin? I'm touched, But when she grabs my phone, I lose it. "Give it back!" I almost shout, You little bitch. When she shakes her head no And hides the phone behind her back I grab the cord coiled around her wrist And jerk hard. Being on her knees only makes Her smile more mocking: We both know what I am Behind my desk, in my teacher's coat and teacher's tie, With my pose of weary composure--hell's appropriate behaviour-- A synonym for despair. Calmly as I can, I reach My hand out for the county's property, While Maria, raking my forearm with her nails, Gives me one more chance To be myself.
Copyright © 2002 by Timothy Dekin. Published 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.