TRANSFER OF POWER
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.
Give me one more chance—
No, you say.
In a voice you don’t recognize
as your own.
CAUGHT, IN THE PRINCIPAL’S LENS
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.