Living History

September 11, 2001 was the most difficult day in my teaching career. I wrote the poem I’m posting today several years ago.

Living History

On a blustery November afternoon

We sophomores rehearse.

The principal interrupts our song.

“Our President has been shot.”

 

Sister Choir Director gasps,

Then her face freezes.

Girls, let’s pray.”

Her voice quaking,

she leads us in

“Climb Every Mountain.”

 

Later, during biology,

Our principal announces

“Our President has died.”

 

Sister Biology’s head falls to her desk.

She rearranges her face.

“Girls, let’s pray.”

Then page by page,

Sister drags us through

the chapter on amoebas.

 

In last period, Sister History

wipes her cheeks.

“Girls, let’s pray.”

She begins, “When I was a girl…”

and recalls Pearl Harbor.

We don’t even open our books.

 

There’s

Another announcement:

No sock hop, no basketball game

tonight.

 

Weekend plans destroyed,

the President we love gone.

What would happen next?

Our world has changed,

But we just don’t know it yet.

 

On a sunny morning,

new school year freshness

brightens my classroom.

 

We teachers gather in the hall,

grousing about the broken copier,

keeping our eyes on

our eighth graders

squealing, chattering

around us.

 

Someone with a radio

pops into the hall.

A plane …

the World Trade Center

…a second plane

 

A bell…

class begins.

 

I pray silently.

Stunned,

I tell the kids about the attacks.

“Does anyone need to

call home?”

No one.

 

So I read Chapter One.

My mouth introduces the story’s characters.

My mind chases horrifying images.

 

The principal announces

“The Towers have collapsed.”

 

I pray silently, and

struggle to imagine,

But the students barely react.

I crave a TV,

other adults, my husband

to share my horror.

Tears threaten;

I blink them back.

 

But yet,

twenty-five eighth graders

sit before me,

unruffled.

It’s not about them, they think.

Tragedy is on the news every day,

What’s the big deal about this one?

 

We go on.

“What have we learned today

about the story’s characters?”

We dissect plot and theme.

Anguish fills

my stomach.

I pray silently.

 

The bell rings.

my girls and boys burst into the hall,

greet friends,

go on their way.

Gym class, science,

math.

 

Their world has changed.

They just don’t know it yet.

 

 

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