Room 117 by Khristian E. Kay

Khristian E Kay died on 5/29/2020, just days before having the chance to hold a copy of Room 117.

 

As an artist, and an editor, I am honored to have had the opportunity to work on this heartfelt collection.

 

Khristian’s passion as a public elementary school teacher in a bad neighborhood shines beautifully in Room 117.

 

 

 

for Josie

 

 

 Mr. Room 117

 

The turnover is

astounding there were

six me(s) before

I came aboard

The longest one

lasted 90 days

the shortest

just a few

I teach in what

Is called a CBU:

Comprehensive

Behavior Unit

A self-contained

Special Education

Classroom of

6 through 8th graders

with behavior

and emotional

issues too severe

to be in a room

with their

unencumbered peers

On top of their academics

my job is to teach them

How to self-regulate

How to be calm

How to be nice

How to fit in

How to be social

How to care

How to survive

Maslow’s Hierarchy

The kids believed

they could run anyone out

and it seems they

were successful

they called me “teacher”

on the good days

But those were few

I was “White Bitch”

on the regular days

“Fat White Bitch”

on the worse

not much delineation

Appropriately

90 days in

to their consternation

I was still there

Some just called me

“teacher” and

Some continued to

ask me what my name was

I point up to the bulletin

board above my desk

My name is in large bold

300 point font

I say it is the same

as the first day

My colleagues are

not much better

trying to remember names

After each

subsequent turnover

becomes laborious

 

There is a lot

of energy to invest

in learning

someone else’s name

They call me

Mr. Room 117

 

 

 

Eighteen Hundred “Good mornings.”

 

I stand post outside the classroom door

welcoming my children in each morning

Other students, not mine, pass by:

“What’s up?” they say with a head nod,

a handshake here – fist bump there

a few even smile and wave but mine –

mine are afraid to show affection

show that they like me – to violate that code

is a sign of weakness – no emotion –

not until they are safely hidden inside the room

 

I say to them: “Good morning.” as they enter

They respond with scowling faces and

sour groans mumbling “fuck you bitch”

“shut up talking to me” or worse: nothing –

I think once someone said ‘good morning’ back

but then corrected themself

“I mean, fuck you”

 

 

 

Affirmation

 

There are subliminal signs of affirmation posted everywhere

To spur on or encourage the staff members to recognize

the hardships they endure, the thanklessness of their work

to remind them of their life’s chosen purpose

These are posted all over the staff lounge and staff work area

above the photo-copier, on the refrigerator, on the doors above

the microwave, next to the trash cans, even in the staff toilets,

On the wall across from the entrance way is the sign

“I’m a great teacher and I get better and better each day”

While washing your hands is the respite “My job is worthy”

Taped to the refrigerator while grabbing last night’s

leftovers from your insulated lunch bag

with a yogurt cup and some celery sticks one can read:

“I will share my gift for learning”

Above the microwave while heating up your microwave

popcorn one ascertains “Almost everything

will work again if you unplug it, even you.”

On the copier door that needs to be constantly opened

to fix the consistent paper jams reminds one

“I’ll stay focused and remember why I got into teaching”

 

By the trash can next to the door stained with

leftover foodstuffs, coffee grounds, soda residue, smeared yogurt

reaffirms the ideal “I love teaching. Teaching is my passion.”

Below the exit sign as you leave with a heavy sigh and a false

air pump of confidence to continue the tackle of the day

“My students, their parents, and my colleagues respect me.”

While in the men’s toilet urinating remember

“You are making a difference”

When cleansing your bowels confirm the epithet

You’re doing what’s in the best interest of your students”

 

 

 

Food as Religion

 

My students are pack rats

always squirrelling away food

in the crevices of their desks,

their lockers, their book bags,

my desk. They hoard their food

 

It seems there is never enough

They have to hide their food because

it is always open season on food.

As soon as a package is seen

the cries commence: ‘Gimme some.’

 

Begging ‘Let me have some’

They will circle one another

Wait for an opportune moment

Then seize the other’s food

Run off to a safe distance and

 

devour it like jackals mouths open

peals of laughter and chewing away –

spilling their greed all over the ground

 

Wasting their spoils.

 

 

Somewhere on some social media platform

They heard a myth that white people

cannot tolerate hot foods.

They are always trying me: ‘eat this,

try this… are you going to throw up?’

 

I bring in peppers from my garden

I share the jalapenos – once

I let them try a serrano. They are

dumbfounded as they spit out

the heat and watch me consume them

 

I bring in sushi with hot chili sauce

Rooster Sauce they call it and wasabi

The wasabi makes their noses run and

their eyes well up they drink water

straight from the faucet. Another time

 

I made them carnitas en chili de arbol

It was too spicy and much was left

uneaten, mouths burning they cried

 

“But you’re white?”

 

Theirs is not good or healthy food

It is all processed: chips, hot fries,

flaming hots – I once made them

nachos – they would not eat them

since they had never seen an

 

unprocessed tortilla chip

‘what is that?’ they said pointedly

‘those aren’t chips.’

I bring them healthy snacks

Apples, oranges, grapes, melons,

 

Cauliflower I show them how I eat

raw cauliflower dipped in Red Hot

“I eat that shit on everything” I joke

They like this and pick up this habit

But mainly it is the processed foods

 

the Takis, Dinamitas, Flaming Hots

they fight over these, these are sacred relics

and must be devoured for their power

 

To be worshipped

 

 

 

Culture of Fighting

 

They ask me why I do not fight

They are always fighting, first

with words then insults then bumping chests

No one wants to go first

They are encouraged by others and in turn

encourage others to fight

To punch, tackle, wrestle, bite, kick, pull hair

There are rules and they keep score

Bad form for kicking but then they will brag or retell

the story of how so and so got kicked in the head

face, nuts, stomach they glorify

the fight

 

They ask me why I do not fight

I tell them it is a waste of time

A waste of energy

Nothing is ever solved, resolved nothing good

ever came from fighting

No one ever wins a fight

 

It just escalates from name calling

Two people punching

Getting their crew to show up and rumble

 

Then moving towards weapons

Sticks, bats, knives, guns it progressively

gets worse

 

They ask me why I do not fight

I tell them I was not trained

to fight I was trained to kill

I am ex-military we do not waste our time fighting

We kill: end of story

One should not go around killing

There are no rules no points scored

No bragging rights

Someone dies – Dead

How many did you kill? I tell them

That is between me, and

Myself

 

They ask me if I was ever in a fight

I tell them yes, once

It is nothing one should brag about

I show them the scar on my nose

The bridge dented

I was hit here with the butt of a rifle

I tell them

 

Did it hurt? They ask

Of course I say they broke my nose

What happened then? They ask

I’m standing here, aren’t I?

Alive

 

 

 

Code Red

 

Active Shooter!

This is not a drill

Across the street from my classroom

Police are serving a high-risk warrant

There is fear that the home’s occupants

may open fire

We do not know this – yet

What we know is we are at the lockers

getting ready to go home for the day

when the code was called

I corral them back into the room

We lay low everyone

wants to know what is going on

Some go to the windows

to peek behind the blinds

I hiss at them

to get away from there

to be quiet

Instead they lift the blinds

Yell excitedly that SWAT

is across the street

Try to open the windows

I physically have to move them

 

away chastising, explaining

the dangers – They say

 

“They are gonna shoot the cops

not us.” I tell them

about the Odessa shooter

pulled over for a traffic stop

Who then shot at the police

and fled shooting people randomly

as he drove away – I tell them

people do not need a reason

to shoot you

they just need a target

Don’t be a target

 

 

 

In this corner: New Boy

 

New Boy has been here for 4 months

and they still won’t use his name

White Boy used to be New Boy

because he arrived in September.

White Boy is of mixed race so this

culture segregates him out

and thus he is known as White Boy.

Here it is a derogatory term

and is meant to isolate him. But

White Boy is happy because he

is no longer New Boy.

He has been named.

 

New Boy is from Chicago so that gives him

some sort of street cred but still

they want to fight him

And New Boy bloodies White Boy’s nose

This buys New Boy reprieve and accolades

for about a week and then someone else

chooses to challenge him

 

This is what they do with new students

They surround them with fists at the ready

 

 

Each taking a pot shot and jumping away

I have to step between them

blocking punches and kicks

 

a bouncer on top of everything else

I have to referee these fights

several times a day until New Boy

is no longer New Boy

but called by some other name.

 

 

 

Lexi

 

Lexi is a fighter

She carries a boxer stature

wiry and muscled

legs astride one

slightly ahead

of the other

bouncing off the balls

of her feet a

stutter step here there

she has a quick jab

Both left and right

She is always shadow

sparring with someone

though she does not

pull her punches

Instead she lands them

with an intense fury

of earnestness

I contact local

Teen MMA and try

to get her involved

there instead she

wants to fight me

 

jabbing and kicking

I just block

trying to get her

to come back to her

academics

I tell her I will

not fight her

She punches me

nevertheless

If she does not

get her way she

tosses the room

clears off the desks

punching and kicking

anyone who gets

in her way

Safety and

administration

often wrestle with her

as she punches

and kicks at me

I block her strikes

as she screams

“Fight me! Bitch.”

 

But I refuse

I tell her I won’t

And I block

trying to get the rest

of the class

settled and back

to learning fending

off Lexi’s attacks

 

 

 

Crack-Head Bobby

 

Dances his best Mr. Bojangles soft

shoe across the floor, twisting and

shaking doing the “floss” making

His goofy faces bulging eyes crooked

smile he works the crowd for laughter

His clothes are dirty his hygiene bad

he hoards food in his desk and locker

He has bruises and came to school

with the mumps once I took him to

the hospital I follow my checklist for

Child Protective Services he meets

all the red flags for neglect or abuse

I cannot get a hold of his father and

He tells me his dad is in jail again

He is staying at a group home with

His sister and asks me for a ride to

the shelter since the bus does not go

there I tell him the office will provide

a ride that I am not allowed by contract

to give rides to students he does not

want the office knowing his situation

I follow CPS rules and contact the

Social Worker and my administrator –

 

it is not abuse nor neglect and I am

cautioned off from reporting as it is

determined to be poverty, so I am told

– I shrug I am a mandatory reporter

by virtue of my position as a teacher

 

He came to school with a white crust

of milk around his mouth and some

one said he looked like a crack-head

He is a jokester a clown and acts out

to protect himself so he rubbed chalk

dust all over his face and acted a wild

fool “I’m Crack-Head Bobby,” he took

Jolly Ranchers and crushed them up

“I need a fix.” and he snorted the candy

I told him not to do that that the crushed

candy is sharp and cutting like glass

and he could hurt himself by doing that

“But I’m Crack-Head Bobby!” he states

The class laughs at his antics and he

wins the day hiding behind his mask

of humor his horrors of day to day

One day on the way to school I saw

Him standing on the island between

 

the boulevard begging for money

He saw me and waved shouting out

my name “I’ll see you at school.” He

turned back to the stopped drivers

dancing his best Bojangles soft shoe

 

 

 

Miracle

 

Miracle dances on the table rocking back and forth

the hairpin legs already pulled out, bent

and replaced several times over

bending under her shaking – her tongue pink and glossy

sticking all the way out down her chin

I tell her to stop “Be safe.” Iterating the litany of

the school expectations:

‘Be Safe. Be Responsible. Be Respectful’

 

Miracle responds with “Suck my dick you fat ass white bitch.”

I tell her she needs to pay attention during biology class

She sticks her middle finger out at me

This is old territory the table has collapsed before

with her dancing on it falling to the floor hitting

her head, getting scrapes on her knees and legs

Her mother wants to know why I did not stop her,

why I let her hurt herself I tell her I did not

that I cannot physically control her

 

Miracle tells her mom “He never is helping me.”

I defend myself I say when I go to help Miracle

She tells me to “Get the fuck away from me bitch”

 

Miracle sticks out her big tongue as far as it can go

This is her tell

Whenever she is about to do something bad

 

Miracle sticks out her tongue

She does not know she does this

She is confused as to how I know she is lying

or about to do something she is not supposed to do

She is up on a table rocking it back and forth

dancing her tongue lolling out

She pulls out some markers her tongue hangs out

I tell her to put the markers away

“Don’t talk to me bitch!” and she turns her head to the class

rolls her eyes

She starts to write on the walls, the desks the classroom textbooks

with her markers her tongue lolling about

 

Miracle asks to go to the bathroom, her tongue lolls about

I know she is going to run through the halls

disrupting other classrooms I tell her

to return to her seat she calls her mom:

“Teacher won’t let me go to the bathroom.”

I tell mom my concerns – I am told her good girl would

never do things like that “Why don’t you teach her?”

I tell her I cannot teach her daughter

 

when she misbehaves…

Mom just hears “I cannot teach.”

 

Miracle sticks her tongue out and runs about the class

whispering into the ears of others

then stands by the door

 

I tell her to sit down that she is not going to go run the halls

and no one else is going to join her

She spits on me and says “Fuck you bitch.”

 

Miracle returns from art class hiding something in her hoodie

Her tongue out she pulls out a bottle of blue paint

I ask her where the paint came from she says

“Teacher gave it to me.” I tell her I do not think so

She pours this onto her desk and smears her hands in it

I reach for the paint and she squirts it on the carpet

 

Miracle drops the bottle her hands coated in blue paint

She jumps up putting her hand prints on the walls

desks, window shades, the backs of other students

I secure the rest of the paint while

 

Miracle skips to the blackboard and prints her hand print

 

over and over and over her tongue sticking out

 

Miracle comes to class with a new box of colored pencils

She sits at her desk her tongue hanging out

breaking the new pencils into little

pieces and throws them at the other students,

at me, then tells her mother that I won’t let her color

 

I tell the class to get their reading books out

that it is time to read now

 

Miracle says “I ain’t doing that shit.”

Her tongue hanging out she comes over

and clears off my desk papers and books go flying

 

Miracle laughs and my attention is focused on her

now and no one is able to read as Miracle

dances through the spilled papers and books

They laugh at her antics and Miracle

bathes in their attention

 

Miracle demands attention be focused on her

She goes to the classroom phone “I’m calling my Mama.”

I abandon my lesson from the board and

 

I tell her to leave the phone alone – her tongue lolls out

as she punches in numbers “Teacher is a fat white bitch.”

I hang up the phone “I was talking to my Mama!”

She unplugs the cord from the phone base

 

and runs around the room swinging the receiver by it

her tongue out she tries to hit the other students

 

Miracle smacks the receiver against a desk

I wrestle her for it taking it from her hands

she gets mad snorts and spits out

a large green glob of snot onto my shirt

I escort her from the room she pounds on the door

pounding the plexiglass out of the frame

 

Miracle comes to school with long braids plaited in her hair

She unbraids them making sure everyone watches her

I ask her why she is unbraiding her hair

after her Mama had paid good money to put them in

Miracle answers “Shut up talking to me Bitch.”

 

Miracle has a pair of scissors and starts cutting her hair

I will not wrestle the scissors away from her

I try to reason with her

 

She cuts large clumps and then throws them at

 

the other students who recoil as she laughs

at their discomfort – she cuts off all of her braids

 

Miracle comes to school with her mother the next morning

Mom claims that “Teacher cut off my daughter’s braids.”

I tell her I did not that she did it herself

“Where’d she get the scissors from?” I tell her

she stole them from my desk “My daughter would never.”

I tell her I have a classroom full of students

who will attest to this she says

“You already poisoned them against my daughter.”

 

Miracle jumps on the desks and leaps from one to another

again I remind her to be safe

I remind her of the other times when she jumped to a desk

slipped off and smacked her head

Her tongue is out and she says “Your fat ass can’t catch me.”

 

She leaps to a desk and it flips and she falls to the floor

She has a nasty bump on her head and is crying

 

 

 

She tells her mom that I made her fall

 

Miracle and I conference with her mother and the principal

We talk about her need to learn how to read, to behave

to function in society, her pathway through education

We talk of her safety

our concerns and how she needs to follow basic expectations

We talk of her responsibilities to herself

to her mom to her class and to others

We talk about her lack of respect for teachers for others

Miracle sticks her tongue out

points at me and argues “But he’s white!”

 

 

 

Gaps

 

Gaps is always eating, his momma

will pack him a mid morning snack

a lunch, Lunchables, an afternoon snack,

and some treats – he eats all these

before lunch and then gets a school lunch

He begs me for some cereal or chips

whatever it is I have and sits at his desk

eating, noisily – chomping and talking

crumbs spilling down his chest

onto the floor some spewing out

as he talks excitedly about his night

or how he braved some scenario

beating up this person fighting another

I tell him not to talk with food in his mouth

I point to the floor and ask him to pick up

the crumbs and he argues with me

“that isn’t mine!” “I didn’t have Cheerios”

As Cheerios fall from his lips.

 

He is sincere.

 

 

 

Carissa

 

Hooks my arm in hers

and introduces me as her Grandfather

I smile a powerful beam

grab her little brown hand

and tell her that I would be lucky

to have a granddaughter such as she

 

Last year Carissa was bumming

outside my classroom door

I asked her why she was not in class

She said she had no place to go

Her class was going on a field trip

She said she did not have enough money

to go on the trip so she had to stay behind

I asked how much she needed

She said one dollar

I checked my wallet and only had some tens

So I slipped her a ten and told her to

use the rest for lunch or snacks

Her smile lit up the room and she twirled

and ran off to catch up with her class

By the end of the day the rumor mill

 

had run amuck ten fold

The story became that I had given her

a hundred dollars to go on that class trip

And that I was spoiling her

like I was her Grandfather or something

 

Carissa is a beautifully exotic girl with

a brilliant smile a little crooked

as if she is hiding a delicious secret

her eyes widen like dewy saucers

shining in the morning sun the crease

of her scar running from her brow

to her high cheekbones from when her

Momma tried to cut the demons out of her

accentuates the light like an etching of a spider

silk crack in delicate bone china

 

She walks with me to her social worker

Back straight and poised our arms hooked

With a formality pulled from some deep recess

Carissa introduces me to her worker

Who shares a familiar knowing wink with me

Not as her teacher, pops, grampa, or gramps

But says “This is my Grandfather.”

I should be so lucky

 

 

 

Dewayne

 

Dewayne stuffs his mouth continuously

with whatever he can find available

devouring bags of chips after bag

mixing different chips into one bag

and crushing them into dust he dumps

these into his mouth swallowing

pouring these bags his head back

mouth open and talking loudly and

excitedly grinning he will lick the dust

from inside the bag with his fingers

stained red from the artificial coloring

he inhales bags of Halloween candy

vacuum-like wrappers piling on his desk

running about the room shadow boxing

his hyper self further invigorated

 

Dewayne can take a handful of Takis

and Jesus-like feeds the multitude

dozens of kids with their hands out

all fed with chips.

 

 

 

Bed Bugs

 

Scarred and scabbed over Bed Bugs likes to fight

He bullies the ones smaller than he

He used to be the bullied, last year

curled up on the floor fetal style crying

Crocodile tears and a wailing of pain

not associated with the physical

 

He has marks all over his body the others attribute

these to bed bugs and they named him so

He likes the girls flirting with them

by inappropriate touching or using

graphic sexualized language trying

to impress them to prove his prowess

 

Bed Bugs will run across the desks ‘parkour’ style

kicking papers and books to the floor

He leaps to the windowsill to the heating ducts

tipping desks over from imbalance

begging me to chase him or try to catch him

I warn him of the dangers of falling

 

I do not chase him that only makes him more reckless

If I try to grab him to make him stop he could fall

He calls the girls “thots” and “sluts”

but still they laugh at his antics encouraging

him to run and jump and slide and kick

I tell him to stop so he does not get hurt

 

He laughs me off yelling “parkour!” and leaping aside

He tips a desk and falls across the surface

his head hitting the edge of a chair

He goes down blood oozing from his forehead

I try to help him but he rises using his shirt

as a bandage and swearing at me runs from the room

 

Bed Bugs’ Mom calls the police seems he claims I pushed

him down and made him smack his head

The police put me in a conference room

they interview the other students – me last

The kids tell tales of ‘parkour’ and obscenities

the police want to know why I did not stop him

 

 

 

Katera

 

Kat is messy, she likes to instigate and mess up

the minds and lives of everyone around her

She will often yell in the halls

“They’s fighting! They’s fighting!”

Just to get people to run out of classrooms

 

Katera’s version of crying wolf

She’s prolific on social media starting

fights with this one or that one but then

forgets that in real life she is not protected

by circuits and digital fortresses instead

she has to deal with those people the next day

often she will skip school to avoid her messiness

 

Kat is messy, in school she mixes makeup and lotion

stirring into her cereal and spreading it across

the desk she will pour glue

and then sprinkle glitter and cereal

just as a means of entertainment in the classroom

 

Katera’s version of chemistry

She is masterful at avoiding her schoolwork

often decrying how bored she is and how much

 

she hates school how much she hates work how

much she hates the classroom with its rules

and directives and procedures for behavior

often she will skip school to avoid this messiness

 

Kat is messy, dealing with people and her avoidance

She prefers to go shopping with her mom and aunties

She will often relay her purchases

telling everyone “I hate peoples.”

to avoid having to talk or engage with anyone else

 

Katera’s version of flirting

is to hit a boy she likes or insult his manliness

then runs out of class to kiss him in the bathroom

She returns and insists that I protect her from them

She obsesses over videos of people eating

and she will watch these over and over

often she will come to school to watch this messiness

 

 

 

Mo Mo

 

Today he tells me he wants to be known as Mo Mo

Last month it was Mar Mar

Before that: Marky Mark (until I showed him

a video of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch)

Mo Mo is a ball of energy about 3 feet tall

always dancing or jumping on the desks

shuffling across the floor in his socks

He makes up raps about things I say to the rest of the class

Embellishing my words to fit his rhymes

“I gonna beat that ass if yo’ don’t have a pass

You need to have a pass / have a pass

I gonna beat yo’ ass if yo’ don’t have a pass

But I ain’t goin’ to jail for that

No ain’t goin’ to jail for that”

Mo Mo’s family sells weed, all of them,

to the locals everybody knows who’s holding

His older married sister handles the drop phones

His mom makes the deals his older brother keeps the bank

Mo Mo and his younger siblings run

interference with the police

since weed is not legal here yet

Mo Mo tells me this as he lays on my desk eating lunch

He prefers to spend his lunch time with me

 

telling me the benefits of an AK74 over a 47

of the Dracos hidden under the liner of the couch

The safe in his brother’s closet

 

The men that drink his mother’s liquor as she

makes deal after deal

The men they have to help out of their apartment

The secret passage in the basement to the barbershop next door

where Mo Mo and his siblings smuggle out bags of weed

in their book bags because boys coming out

of a barber shop with their book bags looks legit

Mo Mo tells me he keeps his nine in the wastebasket by his bed.

then bounds Spiderman-like up onto his feet at the corner of my desk

He leaps to the floor dances a shuffle singing

“got my gat gat gat / gonna rat a tat tat

 

Shoot all these mutherfuckin’ rats with my gat gat gat…”

 

I tell him to take his tray back to the lunch room he smiles

Picks it up and dances out of the door

 “I’ll be right back back back with my gat gat gat…”

 

 

 

Tori

 

Is a big girl worthy of the storm in her name

When her anger unleashes she loses all control

A dervish of fists and kicks and tears

A tempest decimating everything in her wake

She towers over me with a height

Hiding the 12 year old girl that she is

 

I try to soothe her fervor calm her demons

Regulate her exasperation before

being pulled into her tantrum

She will twirl her foot or stomp her feet

when she does not get her way

Seeing the 12 year old girl that she is

 

I walk her to the gym where the late bus riders wait

She begs me to stay with her I tell her I cannot

Knowing that to tell her of union rules and

school policies will just go over her head

I tell her I have to leave

Being the 12 year old girl that she is

 

She says she does not want to be alone

I wave my hand at the gym full of other stranded students

You aren’t alone you have all your friends

“Please she says…” and pouts sticking her big lip out

tilts her head flashes a smile bats her eyes

Playing the 12 year old girl that she is

 

She pleads: “Look. Puppy dog eyes please…”

Scrunching her face “Look! Puppy dog eyes.”

I look up at her and have to remind myself she is

A little girl gripped in anxiety and of being alone

I acquiesce and she grabs my hand and skips along side of me

Acting the 12 year old girl that she is

 

 

 

Domo

 

Domo is a man-boy a bear of a child at 6 foot 4

300 plus pounds he is missing his two upper front teeth

having them punched out in a fight Domo is always fighting

He wears white t-shirts stained with sweat and baggy sweat pants

He will lie on his back on the floor and eat candy or cereal

dumping it from the container into his mouth

When he gets up you can see the outline of his head in foodstuffs

He bullies the littler students punching them or kicking them

until they cry

Sometimes he will grab them and choke them

or toss them down the halls

He laughs and hurls graphic insults at the girls

asking for sexual favors and rubbing his body up against them

Dropping his pants asking them to touch his penis

Other teachers are afraid of his size but Domo is a bully

not because he is mean but because of his size he is

a Teddy Bear who does not know what to do

or act trapped inside his body other than to intimidate others

He is afraid of the boys his size or ones that will stand up to him

Often I have to play linebacker as he will rush

into the room to attack a student

I block and grab him stopping him and then jokingly hug him

We then dance about the doorway

as I lead our way out of the room

We often hug things out and he breaks into a big grin

showing the world the toothless Teddy Bear within

 

 

 

Kenny

 

The girls cream for Kenny

They gang up outside of the door

trying to get his attention

His phone blows up

beeps and clicks as the girls

text and sext and facetime him

asking him to come out in the hall

meet them in the bathroom

Some shout through the air vents

“Meet Tenesha in the bathroom

in 10 minutes” others just blatantly

pound on the door

Kenny was held back a year so

he is 15 and prime meat

 

Tucked up inside his hoodie

Kenny sits in the back

of the class sleeping

He comes to school high

every morning squirreling his

breakfast for later when he

awakes and the hunger hits

His PO wants me to call him

 

when he is like this I call

every day and they make a note

somewhere on some tally sheet

tucked away in some bureaucratic

sense of responsibility

As long as we cross the Ts

 

Kenny packs bags of weed in his

book bag sometimes inventoring

His stash on the classroom floor

when he thinks I cannot see him

He carries just enough to not

get arrested for trafficking

By the time I have contacted Safety

or an administrator Kenny

has handed off his stash

Some of the kids have figured out

 

how to open the doors with a half

of a scissors they open a storeroom

door and then text everyone on a

group chat/text the location

 

The kids clamber into the storeroom

under the guise of going to the bathroom

or some will just leave their class

They smoke their weed giggling

and making all kinds of noise

not realizing that anyone passing by

would be suspicious of a storeroom

that smokes and giggles and laughs

 

Kenny is always in the midst of these

caught in the threats of suspension

but that would sully the bottom line

another black boy statistic

suspended, expelled, school drop-out

it’s just a little smoking

 

 

 

Paris

 

I know this man is telling no lies

As you beat him with your fists

and curse denigrate his worth

This man who has only loved you

with his caring words to soothe

and brighten that dark within you

 

I know this man is telling no lies

He trying to teach you right

And you beat him! He give you

attention and you give him pain

he takes it all in and shoulders

your fear your burden your cry

 

I know this man is telling no lies

As once someone whose name is

forgotten a face I can no longer draw

cradled the junkie anger in me

and saw my beauty my worthiness

and exposed the beauty that you are

 

 

 

MT Jason

 

Jason believes himself to be a rapper

He will rap over existing performers’ work

repeating their words and phrasing

recording and mixing it and releasing it on Youtube

To his credit he does call it the MT Jason ReMix

The MT stands for the Milwaukee Twins: local rappers

Jason lays claim to, I joke that it stands for what is in his head

He does not understand the joke

He claims he does not have to go to school or do any schoolwork

because he is already making it big as a superstar

The other kids Google him and find nothing

I try to impress upon him the need for education, for reading

for writing so that he will be able to create these raps

He tells me that I am Old School that

that is not how it is done in this age

He talks of his bodyguards and managers and promotional agents

I ask him to tell me when his next show is but I never

get a reply or invitation, neither do the kids

I tell him in all seriousness that he is failing school

He has not done any school or class work

I ask him to write: poetry, verse, rap whatever… he copies

down others’ words and hands them to me saying they are his

He does not realize that I know how to Google also

 

 

 

Valencia’s Laughter

 

Valencia makes me an origami skunk,

I thank her and tell her it is clever,

my students complain

they do not know what origami is

or why she is making me one

She soars through the hallways

a seagull tacking on thermals

Sometimes she waddles like a penguin

hands down at her sides

Other times her wings float her softly

a majestic butterfly or

hurriedly like a moth.

I have adopted her into my classroom

When she came to this school

she would scream

She would tear rooms apart

throw chairs at people

kick, bite, pull hair, punch

She would be dragged out of the classroom

an adult on each limb

as she screamed, kicking and flailing.

One day she stood outside my room,

breathing heavy

 

the fury alighting her eyes –

I invited her in pulled out a chair

asked her to sit, relax, breathe

and then went back to

teaching my class.

My students talked about her, insulted her

they seek the weakness: too poor to have the right shoes,

dirty clothes, they often insult the parents

striking the jugular about each other’s mommas –

Valencia is a foster child

they swoop in on this and make fun of her

like a pack of hyenas braying around a carcass,

sniping and nipping at one another

as she quietly wept,

I told them to leave her alone,

Asked how they would feel

if they were upset and

people were making fun of them.

 

Eventually Valencia composed herself

and quietly, politely

excused herself from the room.

Since then she comes to my room every day

sometimes all day,

 

sometimes for a period, sometimes just to say hi

She finds my students’ antics funny

and will burst out in laughter.

They want to know what is so funny

and she replies: “You.”

 

Valencia has a lovely laugh, crystalline and honest

She wants to study Japanese when she is older so

She practices pronouncing Japanese words

I compose Senryu and Haiku for her

and she translates them into Kanji –

she tells me that each stroke she carefully

 

scratches onto the paper represents

the words I had written down.

I do not know I cannot read Kanji

I trust her and tell her so. She finds me funny,

She tells me some of the things I write make her laugh.

 

It is good to hear Valencia’s laughter.

 

 

 

Why I was absent

 

That’s when because my brother Jamar in the hospital

and we had to pick him up

That’s when oh my god oh my god my brother Jamar

got stitches in his head

That’s when he got this big bandage around his head

like in those war videos

That’s when oh my god we over at Big Cheesy’s house

throwin rocks at her and shit

That’s when I pick up this brick and tell Big Cheesy

I’ll throw it at her – Say I won’t

That’s when she up and threatens my little brother D-Mac

– he’s little! And Big Cheesy’s big!

That’s when I throw that brick right through

her kitchen window “bam”

That’s when her momma come out in her bathrobe yelling

“I’ll get you little niggas”

That’s when she say “I know your momma and grandma,

I know where you live.”

That’s when we start running down the street laughing at her

and Big Cheesy – oh my god

That’s when I tell D-Mac that he better not say anything

about this to Momma

That’s when I tell him that I will crack him in his shit

and hold my fist up like this

That’s when we get home and my grandma start yelling at us

about breaking windows

That’s when I tell my grandma that we didn’t do shit

that they’s lying

That’s when my momma come up and ask D-Mac

what I’d do

That’s when D-Mac just like that tells Momma I threw a brick

in that bitch’s window

That’s when I bust my little brother in the nose – oh my god

“bop! bop!”

That’s when he start crying and I tell him “I told you I crack you

in yo shit,”

That’s when my momma whip out her belt and start

cracking me

That’s when I try blocking the belt sayin “Momma! Momma

don’t whoop me, D-Mac is lying”

That’s when my momma say “D-Mac don’t lie to me,”

“smack smack smack”

That’s when she say “I know you broke that fuckin window.”

“smack”

 

That’s when I tell my momma to not hit me no mo

“I won’t do it agi –gi –gi…”

That’s when my grandma start hitting me with the back

of her hand “bop”

That’s when my momma say “We all hit you because

we love you!”

That’s when my grandma say “gi gi gi gi –  y’all a bunch of

greasy monkeys.” “bop bop”

That’s when I tell my grandma “you gotta keep your fucking hands

off me cause

That’s when I’m gonna get my 38 and pop yo ass.

pow pow pow”

That’s when my uncle say “Don’t you talk to your

grandmother like that.”

That’s when my momma and uncle start fighting

“bop bop bop.”

That’s when my other brother Jamar comes out

with his Draco

That’s when he tell my uncle to stop hitting Momma or

he’s gonna crease his ass

That’s when my uncle grab my brother’s gun and

smacks him across the head

That’s when Jamar goes down all bloody and Momma

jumps on my uncle’s back

 

That’s when my grandma starts cackling and laughin

about monkeys

That’s when she slaps me across the face and says

“See what you devils wrought?” “bop”

That’s when the Draco goes off “pow pow pow” and shoots out

the windows by the couch

That’s when everybody stops and Momma tells my uncle

to hurry quick leave

That’s when he picks up Jamar and take him to the hospital

before the police come

That’s when we clean up the house and hide the guns and shit

in a hole in the basement

That’s when Momma leaves and grandma says “Git yo

monkey asses ready for bed.”

 

 

 

Active Shooter Drill

 

We are experiencing a Code Red

This is an active shooter scenario

It may be a drill it may not be we

have 4 or 5 of these a month some

are drills most are real situations

The kids are desensitized and will not

be quiet they talk and yell and argue

why they have to follow these “stupid”

procedures, why they cannot leave

“I’m going to use it you can’t stop me”

“I don’t wanna be in here” “God gave 

me a mouth so I’m gonna use it”

As I review the step by step

instructions I realize that to them

every day is an Active Shooter drill

These are kids who cannot play

outside in their yards for fear of

being caught in gang or drug crossfire

these are kids who are wary

when walking to the park and

encountering others or groups of

others in assaultive battlegrounds

 

My words logical as they may be

do not fit their mindset their experiences

Mo Mo tells me that if a shooter

enters our door he is going out

 

the window I tell them of the 2 boys

from Kentucky who waited outside on a hill

and had a friend pull the fire alarm

The students left the building in orderly

fashion and were shot as they left

the building – my students point out

this flaw in following orderly fashion

Jason accuses that I will hide under a desk

afraid of the shooter leaving them to be shot

I give up on the prescribed procedures

I engage them in another way

I joke and tell them that if a shooter

came through the door and demonstrate

by grabbing Jason and put him in front of me

pretending to use him as a shield

I tell the rest to get behind me

They all laugh at the absurdity even Jason

I tell them let’s pretend: I am the shooter

I hold my hands together as if holding a weapon

 

“I have my automatic Sig 45 with 15 in the clip

and I am coming through the door – Go…”

Mo Mo jumps from the floor before he can

get to the windowsill I yell “Pop! Pop!

You’re down.” I sweep my hands across the room

“Pop! Pop!” each time aiming at a student

“Pop! Pop!” I point my fingers at Katera

saying “Katera is just sitting there screaming

 

 

‘He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!’ So I let her

live for the moment.” White Boy has his phone

out live streaming on social media “Pop!”

I point to the kids huddled in the corner

“Pop! Pop!” I pretend I empty the clip

 

“That’s fifteen. Time to reload.” I lower my hands

Again I point to the ones huddled in the corner

“These are the only survivors,” I tell them

“They are huddled behind your fat ass teacher

who had the rest of the clip emptied

into him as the shooter tried to get y’all”

There is snickering at my language

but they are solemn now I tell them there

is no running the best defense is pretending

 

the room is empty to not give a shooter

a reason to enter the room to begin with

Gaps tries to change the topic redirect to

a less scarier one and he asks me why

teachers do not have guns to protect them

Crack-Head Bobby says if we were outside

He is running away Tori asks what I would

do if we were outside – I smile “I showed you

I’m grabbing Jason.” The tension breaks again

I say rules would state that I have to keep

a gun locked up in the closet or a drawer

I tell them the shooter takes me out before

I can even get to the closet I pantomime

being shot as I go to the door “Pop!”

 

Today’s lesson is dying – we practice at death

 

 

 

Fat Santa Claus Lookin’ Mutha Fucka

 

I am a big guy, fat, rotund

The kids try to pierce my armor

Make fun of me of my size

I wear my grey hair long

And with a beard I grow out

for the holiday season

The kids try to insult me

They say “You think you

Santa Claus?”or they

call out to me “Hey! Santa Claus.”

When walking through the halls

I always answer with a wave,

fist bump, they call me that “Fat

Santa Claus Lookin’ Mutha Fucka’

I embrace their insults

I smile and waggle a finger

I wink and say “Be good.”

 

The younger ones do not know

What to believe: I tell them

the North Pole is just a cover story

so children will not try to seek me out

They ask why I am working here

I tell them “Santa has to have a day job.”

They ask how I get to all the houses

in one night and I tell them “Magic.”

And I do simple sleight of hand tricks

I see their barricades crumbling

They ask me about reindeer, I tell

Them that reindeer are old school

I ride a special motorcycle

with a side car as my sleigh

They have seen this in the parking lot

Their facade slips further

They ask me about my list

of naughty and nice I tap

my phone and pictures of them

with their addresses, phone

and relevant information

pop up on my screen

They give me that look of

uncertainty not sure what to embrace

 

The older ones challenge me

“What are you bringing me?”

I say “Right now nothing,

You need to be better behaved.”

I tell them I am Santa

At special parties

I volunteer my time

at the homeless shelters

churches, Boys and Girls Clubs,

Hospitals and anywhere else

that could use a visit from old St. Nick

These older ones say I must be rich

Playing Santa Claus and all

I tell them no I volunteer my time

“What that mean?”

I give my time, I don’t get paid

“You don’t get paid!?!”

I tell them no that is what

Volunteering is all about

They call me stupid

 

One boy wants to test me he says

“If you Santa what do you say?”

I know what he wants me to say

So he can procure laughter

at my expense so I grab my stomach

lean back look him straight in the eye

and with a hearty laugh I say

“yo mama, yo mama, yo mama.”

 

 

 

4:20 AM

 

I sit in my chair in the living room

The doggies gather around to comfort.

The larger one lays her head upon my

lap and nudges me to pet her I scratch

behind her ears and along her muzzle

The other, the smaller one, comes to my

side and begs my hand under her belly

scratching lightly in her favorite spots.

They each are extremely jealous of the

other if I pet one I must pet both

if I dare to stop with one I am met

with disdain from the other so I sit

petting my dogs and occasionally

drifting off to sleep being awakened

by a nudge at either hand because my

petting has stopped. This is my night –

this is

also my day. My students seek help and

attention they also are extremely

jealous of one another. If I try

to help one – others will complain that I

am not helping them that I show undue

favoritism  “You never help me.” and

when I switch to the complainer the first

complains that I am not helping them but

am helping someone else. Sometimes they will

be working fine and I bring one to my

desk for extra help. Soon I am flocked with

students nudging my hand to help them. Some

will climb upon my desk others under

some nearly sit upon my lap “Help me.”

“You never help me” “You’re always showing

favoritism.” They chime in a chorus.

The girls will often braid my hair in turns

braid then unbraid then braid again they seem

never to be satisfied with their work.

The boys taunt me “You have to leave it like

that for the rest of the day.” They tease me

in awe of my predilection for self-

deprecating attitude, I shrug all this

 

away as I “refuse” to assist them.

Their chorus becomes white noise and drones on…

 

The smaller one nudges my hand from sleep.

 

 

 

Epilogue: in which the epilogue is really the prologue

 

“It has been forty years, a milestone. If I were an alcoholic or junkie I would be given a chip. A chip with a pair of 40 pound brass balls attached, and maybe a cake, definitely some coffee. But I receive nothing – nada – zip – zilch. My milestone of non-violence, of refusing to fight, 40 years of self-inflicted pacifism, gets me nothing. It is confusing to most: why? Why do you put up with it? People hit you, spit on you, call you names and worse but still you refuse to fight. Have you no dignity? Does it not bother you?

I tell them the last time I fought I killed a boy and so swore I would never fight again.

This sounds like bravado from a braggart but it is far from that. I was in the military going through Seal training. I call him a boy but he was probably older than me. I was 17 and going through training, filled with false confidence buoyed by being surrounded with men, my team members, who wanted to demonstrate their fighting prowess, their skills, their confidence. We were on a training exercise, “War Games” we called them, ways of practicing killing one another. We were not at war these were not maneuvers – these were drills, training exercises, play acting.

We were in Central America, I spoke a regional dialect of Spanish – a bastardized mix of indigenous mountain dialects. I had to move from a jungle drop to the coast and set up a communications array. Simple, routine, I worked at night. The probability of having to speak to anyone was null but yet still prepared for. I was crossing a field when it happened. I startled a local boy, like I said he was probably older than me but his actions defined him as a boy – where I, the Navy Seal in training, was categorized as a man. It seemed that way at least.

He jumped, he saw me and seeing me could jeopardize the “mission,” the objective would be breached, I would be the impetus for the failure of the mission.  And everything we were trained for was to protect the mission. Being already seen I did what I thought was best: be reasonable, try to reason with him – but how do you reason with someone who is scared for their life? Protecting a loved one? Fearful of tyranny and coercion? I was just going through an exercise after all. So I approached, my finger to my lips “Shh. Guarda silencio, por favor.” He started to yell “¡Ayudame! ¡Ayudame!” Then he started to run. I had no alternative I had to shut him up so I ran after, I tackled him, my hand slipping over his mouth. “¡Silencio!” But this was not a drill this was not a “mission” to the boy. He fought, he kicked, he thrashed. I wrapped my legs around him, “¡Callate cabron! ¡Callate!” I squeezed my body like a vise my training coming to the forefront. He moved less, struggled less, “Shh!”

I listened to the background noises: crickets, frogs, wind in the grasses, leaves blowing in the wind, the concert of our breathing: wet, sticky and deliberate. Had his yelling called attention to us? Did we go unnoticed? Every snap in the air seemed a betrayal. Voices seemed to generate out of the breeze. The stars became a cyclone of angry alarms. The night was alive, an entity weighing, pressing down, suffocating. I was breathless with fear. Was the mission blown? Silence. Was this how I would end? A failure. I sensed the quiet the unperturbed, I believed we had gone unnoticed. The voices my own imagination battling my conscience. The sky lifting and I made the mistake of slightly releasing my tensed muscles, the slightest relaxation, imperceptible to most – unless you were fighting for your life.

His struggles renewed, he tossed and pivoted his head, again screams for help escaping his lips. I moved my right hand to my sheath and pulled out my knife. This should be threat enough I thought. I hissed “¡basta, ya, cabron!” We struggled my hand over his mouth trying to silence him, trying to stop the yells, the shouts. I moved my knife to his throat hoping this would be an incentive to stop struggling. The funny thing is when posed with a life and death situation most people fight so I am trying to get him to be quiet, “¡Callate, ya!” and subdued; he chooses to fight.

Elbows are flying into my side, legs are kicking at my shins and we are doing this macabre modern ballet: me struggling to hold on – keep up – subdue. And he bites me my fingers slipping from across his mouth and he seizes the opportunity and bites down on my fingers. The pain is incredible and surprising, too surprising, I jolt my thumb under his jaw to force him to open his mouth like I had been taught, like I had trained for – but I had never trained for this – the sound.

It was unremarkable, but still I hear it now clear as an alarm, just this soft hiss more like a slight fart escaping with a soft pfft. That is how I remember the last throes of life from this boy: farting from his throat. When he bit I had somehow pushed my knife into his throat, not slicing the carotid artery like I was trained, like I had practiced no this was a slop shot, my knife through the neck stabbing the tongue and air from his breathing escaping out of the slushy hole my knife made. Pfft. Pause. Pfft. My fingers were free but now useless with this hole in his throat. I could hold his mouth shut but he could breathe through this makeshift tracheotomy. Now I could not even suffocate him into submission.

Momentarily stunned he began to struggle again, and I merely held on my knife pivoting and swiveling back and forth in his throat as he tried to get away and I tried to hold on. “Mierda.” Sloppily hacking away a brutal butchery. “Mierda, mierda, mierda. Lo siento.” He ceased to struggle, noises like cries and shouts gurgling from his wound. “Lo siento.” We laid on the ground his body slowing down the thrashing less and less. He died slowly, painfully, choking, blood filling his lungs – he died despite my best efforts to kill him.

I laid with him a long while unaware of time traveling around me, I could not cry I willed tears to come but they would not. I mourned: saddened for the loss of his life and the sorry state of mine. I was selfish: I plotted and planned: I could leave his body, it could point to a random murder, drug deal gone bad, an attack by the Sandinistas, a lover’s quarrel, a stupid fight… anything but me and the mission. I had saved the mission, the training exercise was no longer in jeopardy. I had won the fight.

The mission continued I set up the communications array, but I was late. I was chastised for my time delay – my tardiness had put my team in jeopardy. The reprimands rained down on me like the tears I could not produce. I used the castigation to wash out. I would not be a Seal. I walked away from my dressing down, being reminded of what a piece of shit I was, how I was weak and weak minded, how I could not be trusted to be a warrior, how I would have to serve out my duty in the service industry feeding and picking up after the real warriors. I was spit upon by my team members, ridiculed, punched, kicked, sworn at with levels of depravity reserved for the penultimate failure. I shrugged, that night out in the field when I could not cry for the boy I had just murdered, how I had found refuge in the fact that the mission would continue, that I was alive… I vowed I would fight again no more.

And now knowing this, knowing a piece of my 40 year struggle of hearing your pithy insults, the bumping in the hallway, the punches and kicks in the back, the throwing of obscenities and other objects, the disrespect… the question you need to ask yourself is do you really want me to relapse from my vow of non-violence? Or do you want to be reasonable and get me that cup of coffee?”

 

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