Sixth Grade & The Teacher's Room
We sit shoulder to shoulder at the cafeteria tables
no ordinary school lunch—the cooks are all mothers
some of them ours, everything from scratch
by women who can cook—to say no thanks
even to the soup is a problem. Today it’s rice,
floating white and curved among green fans
of parsley, bright carrot chunks, caught
in a savory broth, when Mr. Hinz calls
our attention to the similarity between
the cooked kernels and the hookworms
we’d been discussing just before lunch.
We girls, edgy as beveled glass, screech.
Some reach for ketchup as if to drown
those worms, but even then how like an intestine
—the squirted stream, beginning to bleed into
the urine yellow, growing as formless as a future
where nothing can be thrown away, all of it coming
together in stamens with anthers and fertilized pistils,
like sixth grade science where everything is like something
else, no innocent berry or cucumber, all a simile
for something we have yet to learn.
The table— what’s not covered by boxes
(labeled in black marker, “No contents.
Not Kelly’s team,” stacked two stories high,
blocking the light from the metal-meshed window)
and manila envelopes entitled “Values Stars,”
an empty tissue box, a 3-hole punch
that calls itself “Citizen Schools”
—hasn’t been washed with hot
soapy water for years now.
Students entering the sixth grade
when this table was already old but
first covered with the now-ratty
blue and green and shreds of yellow
contact paper, have since led full lives
as janitors, printers, Viet Nam vets,
clerks, professors, grandparents…
is just the table.
The wall (apple-sized-hole punched midway up)
meets the floor (banker’s lamp green)--
gouge-marbled with wear and grease,
with hastily heated cans of garbanzo beans,
and peels of oranges, with spilled m & m’s
—unsteadily, and with little heart or will.
No one gathers here anymore.
No paper in the copying machine,
dismembered burners from the old brass stove
balance barely on the un-plumbed sink.