Shop Talk

She’s talking about a kid in her class who throws things,
because I said I was a teacher too, and she can smell
the crayons and warm lamination in my title. ‘Teacher’
never conjures images of noontime meds in applesauce,
doses of crushed lithium served on wooden spoons.
I nod and listen. ‘Even when he’s quiet he’s got this look.’
The easy ones walk in with that look, I think. A favorite
filled her pre-test out with expletives, the spelling of which
I corrected deadpan. ‘It’s a W H in this one’ as she watched
my face for anger. Beware the children who honeymoon,
who wait to show their anger, a week, maybe more.
Explosions are proportional to hang time. I nod again.
‘Administration won’t do anything. He’s a foster,
poor kid.’ I picture squat men, holstered guns, a social worker
wearing a tired expression and bargain store pants,
his mother screaming, or worse, consenting.
What can they do? I want to say. No consequence matters.
Nothing is consequential when the woman whose
blood was on your lips and in your veins the day you
first filled lungs and screamed no longer wants you. Or wants you
but is powerless to get you. Or is too drunk or sad
or stoned or in love with an abuser to know what she wants
except maybe to get well. I want to say he will do anything
to be louder than his memories. I picture paper packets,
short stories we give sans staples. I picture counting safety
scissors out, and later holding my class of eight
with a beating heart and calm face until every sharp is returned.
Missing light bulbs and a fourteen-year-old with soft eyes,
the raised scars where she sliced ‘help’ into her own skin.
Sock feet, no shoes after a run. I imagine sugar packets dissolved
in plastic bottles of juice hidden in windows for months,
so children can drink hooch. A fist sized hole in drywall,
client J.C. pulling nails from studs with teeth. My coaxing
voice. ‘It’s my job to keep you safe. It’s my job
to keep you safe.’ Staff scissors sharp enough for nooses,
just in case. I want to say her student would do well
if he could. He’d listen and earn gold stars, be a leader in class
like the child he punched last week. He isn’t
throwing chairs but reaching for something to stop the fall.
Finally she asks, “Now, tell me where you teach.”