The one who’s absent might whine
that she missed this. The rest form a circle
around the hot-faced quarterback
and tackle, best friends screaming
about some Jennifer and Saturday night.
Then fists flail like snapped wires ignited
by an energy foreign to this class of Tennyson and Whitman.
The back of the room never seemed so far
as I stumble through desks spilled
like stools in a barroom brawl.
Through cheering students, I watch blood
from Mike’s face dot the floor
as Ken keeps him in a headlock and pummels
his knee up into Mike’s stomach.
They use language with all their might
and Mike shoves free and sends Ken skullfirst
into the cinder-block wall and I can’t reason
any longer with students blocking me
like linemen. So I put my hands on Cindy,
who held the door for me this morning,
and shove her too hard and she looks at me
with so much hurt I almost stop
before bearhugging Ken
and shouting, Stop it! Stop it!
But he knifes his elbow
backward into my belly
that hasn’t felt a punch in thirty years
and that second I want to hit him
in front of his yelping classmates,
whose eyes blaze with a dark glee
that’s turned them into strangers.
And I hate all of them,
acting like the dead when I plead for help
as Ken and Mike keep fighting
with me holding on.
When other teachers rush in
and haul them off like wrecked race cars,
my hands curl into fists
and the principal grabs my arm and asks,
Where were you when all this started?
The parents will want to know.