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In the Classroom


In the classroom, moments of discovery are often outweighed by moments of pain and boredom.

We read "M.Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School--Detroit, 1942" by Philip Levine as our model poem. It explores both sides of the experience.

An imagined class (taught by the painter Edgar Degas!) in a Detroit school, the teacher's failed attempt to have the students think outside of the box, the types that sit around the room, the narrator's boredom, fear and incomprehension... Write a poem that focuses on an incident in a classroom, though perhaps not on school or learning.

For more, visit the Poets Online blog.

Picture Day

  The Indian girl who had a cast
  around her head,
  and now in this country,
  it's around her arm
  because, she tells me,
  she fell down the stairs
  of the motel her family runs.

  The five boys from an African
  country--I forget which one--who speak
  no English despite the fact that English
  is the official language spoken there
  so I can’t get them into ESL,
  and the one girl from the same place
  who says over and over, Help me.

  The girl whose mother died
  and whose father threw away all pictures
  even those in the girl's wallet,
  and he threw away the notebook the girl
  wrote elegies in to remember her.

  The boy repeating the year for the third
  time who would never pick up
  his pictures a month from now,
  shot behind the ear in a parked car.

  The tiny girl pregnant with her third child
  that would emerge out of its embryonic fluid
  a half developed image, disappearing
  before counting its second breath.

  The girl as wide as three girls who refused
  to get in line, who said she didn't want
  no pictures, who said I couldn't make her.

  The Palestinian boy who carried a boxcutter,
  he told the police after he used it
  opening up the neck of an enemy,
  for sharpening his pencils like he did
  at home.

  The girl whose parents drove her to their church
  three times a week, whose three older sisters,
  each slipped out of their house and disappeared.

  Their teacher the third week of school
  clutching the roll book
  trying to learn their names
  in line behind them
  wearing his one new tie.

 Peter E. Murphy

A Christmas Gift 

The day before Christmas vacation
and my teacher calls me up to her desk
to present me with an envelope.
Money. Twenty-six dollars
collected from my fifth grade classmates
so that my family might buy a Christmas tree,
a special gift or a holiday dinner.
I swallowed the stone in my mouth.
My head was hot and I walked blindly to my desk,
trying not to breathe. When the bell rang for dismissal,
I ran home and went right to my bedroom.
When we entered church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve,
I stuffed the bills into the church poor box.
The stained glass windows were dark.
In the nativity surrounded by Christmas trees
on the right hand of the altar,
the manger was empty.
The baby Jesus would be placed there tomorrow.
I prayed that all would know their sins and repent.

Charles Michaels

Reading Lesson

In third grade, I loved to read,
to lose myself in someone else's life.
So I was happy when Mrs. Scudese announced
that today we could read silently
while we waited for our group to be called
to learn how to use the dictionary.
It was hard at first to concentrate,
stuck in a molded plastic chair
connected to its desk,
but soon I no longer noticed
the other students around me,
didn't even notice the words on the page.
I was reading a book about a blind boy
and his loyal German Shepherd,
and when I next looked up,
the lesson was over.
Mrs. Scudese scolded me and refused
to explain what I had missed.
And I was sure I would never be able
to find words when I needed them.

Susan Kaye


In eighth grade I learned how to kiss.
You taught me after school before the bus came
at the door near the gym.
I remember how your tongue tasted
a little different each day and yet
always familiar, how I pulled myself
onto your chest, how my feet lifted for a moment
off the ground.

At night I did my homework,
using the pillow lengthwise so that it crushed
my breasts and I smelled my hair on the pillow
and slid my hand from my knees upwards lifting
my white nightgown and then hugging myself.
Oh, to love myself like that again!

Lianna Wright

Papers rustling, feet shuffling,

we all pile in the room.
Voices are mumbling,
this is my time of doom.

Smells of bubble gum
clash with the chalk,
Such boredom, I wish I had a gun.
How I would love to break that old clock.

It's not noon yet, my stomach cramps,
my head is aching from these cheep lamps,
All this for a better life, surly not for me.
This is not learning, we all yearn to be free.

Outside is our world of fun,
People to play with and things to play on.
Why must we grow up, lets all stay young,
we'll have lots of fun, this could be how we
all get along.

Vanessa Reballosa

Open The Window

I wanted so badly that freshman year
to write you a love poem.
One that would make you love me.

While I watched you during class,
from the seat I had selected
so that I could watch you,
I would run lines through my head.
They were lines that sounded so right
until I saw them on paper.

The night I walked to your house,
when there was lightning and thunder
but no rain, and watched you
through your bedroom window,
I thought the poem would be there.
I thought that in a flash of lightning,
you would see me outside
and open your window.

The recurring dream - You,
in a blue glass, waveless ocean,
sharks cruising in slow circles.
I, watching from a cliff,
could do nothing to save you,
could not even write the poem.

I left you in the water,
in that window, in that classroom.
Thirty years later, seeing you again,
still believing that I could write it down,
in a flash of lightning
you might turn to me in class,
open the window.

Ken Ronkowitz

Gazing Afar

I look at her, I gaze with intent,
only to see her fly by me as if I were improperly maintained.
She has such a beauty that surpasses common features,
A lovely creature she is to not to observe me, swiftly, unjustly,
I walk and think maybe one day, we'll be intertwined and sailing away.
For this train of thought to go off the track to neverending,
I shall be strong and certainly absent from seclusion.
My heart roaring like a tiger sharply like thunder,
If her love were for me I would become abnormal at which I live for eternity.

Sal Kiwall