Sing, Muse, of the science teacher
eyeing wearily the ungraded projects
leaning against the back wall, beneath the board on which
she has hastily drawn a pinnate leaf and a palmate leaf.
She moves from her desk to the window to watch the flag football game
and the man in an electric wheelchair leaving the senior housing complex
and an old Lincoln Town Car parked near the pothole that damaged her axle this morning
and the White Castle bag caught in a gust, moving across the basketball court as if possessed
and Mr. Harris, blowing his whistle.
Tell us of Javonte Stevens in the fourth grade
who is now tapping Mr. Harris on the shoulder to say
that Miss Kaizer will be sending over three kids
who did not bring in their field trip money
and cannot go to the aquarium
and is that okay.
Sing of Javonte’s new glasses,
their black frames and golden hinges that glint in the sun,
and his new haircut, with two notched arrows shorn at his temple
and his new socks which are hidden but which feel best of all
and which were the last of the new things he received from his auntie this weekend
when she visited from Detroit and slept on the couch and declared that
Javonte’s improved grades meant that he should have many new things.
Sing of the rough-hewn piece of wood Javonte uses
to keep the heavy door ajar while he walks outside.
Call out the noise it makes against the painted cement when he kicks it back in.
Sing the song Javonte hums as he carries his message
back up the stairs, stepping in tune,
nodding in tune to Bo as she calls after him,
warning him not to slip on the newly-mopped floor.
Sing of Bo, moving the mop
from the top of the ramp to the bottom,
stepping gingerly past the place where the carpet’s unruly corner bends upward,
guiding the wheels of the bucket to remain upright
despite the heavy dent in the one.
Speak of the pungent, alkaline smell of the water
and the slap when the fibers hit the floor
and the squeal of the bathroom door
and the shuddering sob,
audible in the moment that disc two of The Broker by John Grisham
skips in Bo’s CD player,
and her pause in the threshold
and her retreat to the boys’ room, which can be cleaned first.
Tell of Nakyla Smith, breathing in sharply when the bathroom door closes,
pushing the stall open gently, moving to the sink,
splashing water on her face and wiping her eyes
with the sleeve of her blue oxford.
Sing of her heavy ascent to the counselor’s office,
for today is the day
she will unbutton her collar, and the button below, and the button below,
and tug aside the bleached white tank top
to show the small, round burns that pepper her breast.
Praise Ms. Hightower, who does not gasp or cry out at the moment of revelation.
She only holds one brown hand in her own
and with her left, lifts the phone and dials Mrs. Marshall,
though she is only just across the hall.
Sing, Muse, of Mrs. Marshall, who cannot answer now.
The desk is unattended and she leans
against the other side of the oaken door,
the principal’s side, where a sign reads “Children Are My Business”
and a doll-like painted woman smiles broadly, surrounded by the faces of earnest people.
She is resting against the wood as her forearms strain
with the weight of all the papers,
colored like oatmeal or dust, each with a label at the top.
The first says STEVENS, JAVONTE, and below that, KAIZER
and below that, eight numbers.
Tell of how she collates them by classroom, then alphabetically,
though each letter is the same, though each bears the same news.
Tell, Muse, of the siren that called their joy sparse and their love vacant.
Tell of the wind that scattered them.
Eve Ewing was born and raised in Chicago. Her essays, reviews, and poems have been featured in In These Times, AREA Chicago, Newcity, NPR's Morning Edition, Chicago Weekly, and Blackberry. She is the managing editor of Kinfolks Quarterly and lives in Boston, where she bakes compulsively, reads, and draws comics.