Spelling Bee


Johnson

Tomorrow is the last day of class.
They will run into the room,
Leather belts round their books,
knocking their knees in a rush to their desks.
I will smile to them and whisper
“I have nothing left to teach you.”

No history lesson to explain
Why South Carolina’s not worth protecting anymore.
Why the soldiers that patrolled town,
Searching under gin scorched lips,
sour breath and rope burns on palms
that take pride in taming
the twist of body weight over a branch,
wont be searching for white hoods anymore.
I have nothing left to teach you.

Not enough chalk to draw
your attention away from the fire
that burned all night in the distance.
Too big to be a fireplace,
it must be a house.
Maybe one you’ve walked by,
choking the moon in blankets of grey,
its spark sounds like the gallop of horses,
carrying their masters away into the shadows.
I have nothing left to teach you.

No science lesson to discover why
the scent of jasmine and summer peaches in bloom
can’t wash the fumes of gasoline
off the tattered hankerchief
of a neighbor you should have never look directly in the eye.
Child, that I cannot teach you.

No way to grade how well you slept
only days after another negro was kidnapped and flogged
in the middle of the night.
That I cannot teach you.

No test to correct the
way you mispelled the word “reconstruction”
That I cannot teach you.
Because I’ve forgotten the reason
we spell words that don’t last.

 

 

(A persona poem prompt from Patricia Smith, VONA 2012)

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