Handful   

                  –For Shia Shabazz and Nikky Finney

 

Cory is five and in the kindergarten class

I will teach for three winter months.

 

I was warned about him early—

the principal used the word handful,

 

other teachers said bully, brat,

demon spawn–these things spoken

 

outright, on the playground as he stood facing the wall,

not a rubber ball’s skip step away.  

 

He was sent there for pummeling David–

late-bloomer with fishbone arms–then locking him

 

in the closet during art. This goliath act even outraged

the four-year-olds. I am growing weary after

 

two weeks with Cory; he writes his name across

a computer screen with a permanent marker–

 

the ‘r’ backwards and lower than the other

letters that dissect the dim glass.

 

This was a gift I say to him, I didn’t ask for it

he says, without blinking.

 

The day he snatches a girl off the monkey bars

by her hair, snapping her long braid until it whipped

 

and turned loose, then nearly pulls her arm from the socket

when she dared approach the ladder again,

 

I send a note home for his mother to sign

and he returns it the next morning with just her first

 

name, Laura, inked in purple crayon,

the ‘r’ backwards in her name, too.

 

When I tell him I have no choice but to call her,  

the trembling that overtakes the child

 

is volcanic. It is a blood boil

shaking, a hot coal gyration, and the sound–

 

the sound he makes, the shrill wail of

No, please, no, please, no, please, no

 

is the riff of shared culpability.

I go home with the number in my pocket, unused.

 

For the next few months I keep him in a corner

three desk lengths from the others,

 

but there are still small offences–a shove in the back

at the pencil sharpener, a punch during P.E. 

 

Nothing ever draws blood, or bruises,

so I convince myself he is better.

 

At parent-teacher conferences, 

I expect an octopus-handed woman,

 

a Medusa mother with her snakes

tied back into a bun.

 

Of course, she is as normal as they all seem,

just stern, frigid, a bit impatient.

 

Cory stands near the chalkboard, waiting for the question,

straining to hear her Tell me, has the boy been acting up?

 

something like hope lifting her voice. When I say,

Ma’am, there’s nothing to tell without flinching,  

 

he is pretending not to be relieved or grateful 

and I am pretending not to know it.

 

 

 

 

                                                            Remica L. Bingham