The assignment was made last week: “Write a poem that shows what you’ve learned about poetry.”
Every day, for a whole week, you were afraid because you wanted your teacher to love it.
Then, on the morning the poem was due, you surrendered to a mood-elevating substance. Three spoons of a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal suspended in milk with a 2 percent fat content and
the words tumbled out, free, easy, with a rhyme linking moose to orange juice,
and a meter that would anticipate your adoration of the blues: dee dah, dee dah,
dee dah, dee dah dah, dee dah!
You tore the page out of your notebook and gazed at your teacher’s face as you handed it in.
And your teacher loved it
But loved another student’s poem more, because
At a time when gender didn’t matter
Where you lived didn’t seem to matter
The clothes you wore to school were just clothes until they were stained
What kind of lunch box you carried, and what was in it, would only matter at lunch time, which was an impossibly long two hours away
Your parents’ jobs were too hard to explain
And if anyone was mean to you you were supposed to tell on them and they were sent to the office so they could think of more ways to be mean to you later.
What mattered was to please a teacher who was like the parent you wished you had
Who wrote “good job” in blue across the top of your page and circled the words moose and juice.
But gave the highest grade
To a poem that had been printed out on unlined paper decorated with with a pink, green and brown drawing of a flower, that had been enclosed in a clear plastic folder.
So that what you learned about poetry was that words did not matter as much
As what you put them in.