–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