Issue 14
Phillip, Asleep

Phillip, asleep at the back of the class
     The tight brown bud of his face so recently opened into manhood,
          His cheek pressed against Hayden’s Night-Blooming Cereus,
               His eyes, were they to fly open,in direct line with Joubert’s Black Iris–
                    Did the textbook publishers Have this in mind?

This afternoon, like so many others, we speak in whispers
     A sort of tribute to all the boy-men who flip burgers all night
          To keep their babies from Social Services, who go home at dawn to walk them
               so the grannies can sleep–until someone can figure out a way
                    To convince the girlfriends that babies need their mamas, too.

Oh, so much is unlikely:
     That the principal, when he walks through the door unannounced
          Will think I am doing my job here at the back of the room
                My hand on Philllip’s shoulder as if the lines we are reading
                    Will bring him to life,

As if the techniques recommended in teacher colleges
     By white professors who never set foot in the likes of my classroom
          Could quiet the beast of gangs that roams the school grounds,
               Rules the hallways–
                    Could temper all that is lost, out of control

But Hayden would know.
     After all, he lived just down the street.
          I want to think he would want the babies here, too
               Being read to in the crooks of our arms,
                    passed from row to row,

Learning to read our eyes and our lips
     The kiss of hope imprinted on their hearts as well as their little cheeks.
          Oh, the ringing of words like the ringing of bells–
               Something to send home with them, something
                    to bring them back.