4 POEMS – Roxanne Cardona


                                            for J. Hughes

I press my nameplate, flushed and new,

        below the word Principal

hammered onto the door. I sit in his chair,

        my former boss, the past principal.

His denim jacket slumped over

Sink into his seat. It’s warm like he just got

        up. His signature carved deep

into the desktop drawer as if a naughty student

        wrote it. I pull out its contents. Six

paper-clips, a plastic sleeve, mouth half-open,

        bears three stacks of Post-Its.

An antacid tablet releases white dust in calming

        intervals across the desk’s surface.

He told me to keep them handy. Always. Torn

        phone numbers scatter like black garden ants.

I hear his whispers. They offer advice. Warnings.

        But it’s the secrets I need. I asked him,

Tell me what are the secrets? How can I do this job?

        He whispered back, You can’t do

this job. No one can. He reminded me of a game—

        don’t step on the cracks. Told me

to look those cracks in the eye. Fill them.

        As many as you can.



In another time you could be her,

but you are not her.

Scratches on the table spell

out something, you are not sure

what. Late morning crawls

into your office space. She stares

at you like a long-haired cat

let out of a cage—

no one is smiling.

You tell her she is fired but

don’t remember saying it.

Her red lipstick is on fire,

caught in the small

lines that rise

from her upper lip.

You think about clowns,

how they color hearts

over their mouths so they look

happy, but you never liked

the circus, the lions standing

dumbly on pedestals.

The room remains

a painted green. Outside, winter

pushes against the windows.

There is a hint of urine.

You hope it’s the bathroom.

The sink water came out brown

this morning, and now

your hands feel sticky.

She begins to sign

the termination papers her skin blued

with veins. And here, here,

and there and at the bottom.

You need to sign it now.

She pleads.

Give me one more chance—

No, you say.

In a voice you don’t recognize

as your own.



She raises her t-shirt like bed sheets.

                  Index finger pointing to her left side,

where the shoeprint turns black and blues.

Skin too young to be braided by rage.

                  Her expression caught raw, stitched up

in surprise. My camera snaps the flush of pink,

her silent lashes, her dark unblinking eyes.

                  School books line up behind her like prisoners

bound to their shelves, but her captor’s

lens will not allow the words to be read.

                  Keeps her frozen this week

and the next and all the weeks of time.

What she will not do is tell me

                  his name. Does she know I cannot

keep her secret? She calls him

Daddy. Empty desks and empty chairs hold

                  their tongues. Maps of the world hang

with the promise of turning.



 My parrot screams a red warning.

On live TV, seventeen miles from

 my house. I check the doors. The anchor

 reports six people dead in Jersey City.

My TV goes blue. I change channels.

 Blue, blue, blue. Bullets fly on the TV screen

 as snow swirls behind my bedroom window.

Bam like a war movie. Children in schools

 placed on lockdown. Police cars from five

 counties arrive. Outside, mockingbirds alight

on cable wires, their tails twitch with snow.

 I remember, when I was principal,

 classrooms bolted; my children huddled inside

closets. I sip chicken soup from an orange can.

 Place a chunk of meat on my spoon. Pull the blue

 blanket over my black socks. Where did that

person go? The me, who walked the halls,

 that time before dismissal when a woman

 was shot dead on Spofford Avenue. Where is

that person who opened each classroom door

 to make sure all her students were safe.

Who told her teachers the shooter would

have to go through me first, and meant it.


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