First Day of School


They file in with their bags and books,

as tentative as reluctant penitents,

their bodies sweet embarrassments,

their eyes on guard for funny looks.


They’ve remembered pens and pencils,

paper and erasers, calculators

and planners, granola bars

to sneak, but have forgotten the rules


of fitting in—how and when to smile

or laugh, what to do with hands and feet,

how not to ooze into plastic seats.

All they want is to be liked. Meanwhile


there’s the teacher with her bag and books

and a roster of strange and common names.

After a week of troubling dreams,

her eyes, on guard for funny looks,


wear dark moons that shine across the room.

She’s remembered pens and pencils,

her brown planner and gradebook, the rules

of attendance, bells timed to the clock that looms


and draws all eyes like a giant silver sun.

But she’s forgotten everything she planned—

opening joke, stern warnings, the hand-

out detailing her policies on grades and gum.


So she simply smiles and with deft

gestures hides shaking fingers and beating

heart. And soon enough she’s teaching,

when all she really wants is to be loved.





                                                            Gary J. Whitehead