Flying Lessons




Each August I dream in staccato rhythm:

soggy chalk, keys that fit no locks,

lesson plans written in gibberish, children

who bury their five year-old faces,

classrooms with no chairs, books with no words,

August jitters, September’s follies. Children see red


yellow, blue, silver letters on the wall. Read

together alphabet parade, their bodies in rhythm.

My work—to let children learn words

with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Catch a Falling Star. No locks
on imagination. A book a face

they can study. They’re children


with scripts braided into their clothing. Children

with smiles for graham crackers and lizards, red

hearts from families with southwestern faces

Zuni, Navajo, Irish, Mestizo, with rhythms

the children carry in lunchboxes. My job, no locks

on cuddles and candy, stories and play dough, words


kids can play with—tiger and tremendous. Words

that can shelter—peaceful and remember. Children

whose parents come talk after hours, their bodies locked

in chairs made for toddlers. Their own voices red

with worry about lessons that discipline rhythm,

grind sand into pleasure. Their faces


reveal the years of their schooling facing

teachers who smothered their histories. Words

made foreign by a grammar of sameness, rhythms

fastened down by drink and no money. Each child,

a question for me to still ponder. Henry with eyes red

from his grandmother’s dying. Crystal who locks


her eyes to the side, loves words that unlock

the magic of rhyme. Oddy, the boy with a face

lined with kindeness, whose family arrives with red

kool aid and nopalitos for sharing. I seek out the word

of Neruda and Freire. Children

ask me for answers. I offer them questions. The rhythms


of a nation reduced by amnesia call for words,

for rhythms the tender imagine. I ask children to unlock

letters for loving and fairness. Red storms and blue skies on their faces.




                                                                               Becky Thompson