Thomas Centolella

<f I'm stopped by the laughable
gaggle of little girls at the dojo,
wrapped in their white uniforms
of self-defense and working on their abs,
their ankles held down while they will
their tiny chins to their tiny knees --- then

what gets me going again
is the lamentable
high school where I taught
a shy fifteen-year-old
the uses of metaphor, the magic
of calling one thing
by another's name,
and she taught me
in her small voice
to say the everyday straight out,
without reluctance or shame ---
in her poem, "baby"
didn't mean "boyfriend"
or "sweetheart," it meant
baby, her baby ---

a high school where mine
was the only light face
in a too full room of dark faces,
though I had my own darkness
and kept it to myself,
though they had their own light
and spent it freely, their hands
shooting high at every question,
bodies almost airborne, loud
entreaties for me to call on them,
to let them show off
how much they knew,
how worthy they were
of a hundred attentive ears ---

school that displays on the outside
a visionary's name
and on the inside: a metal detector,
heavy chains on the exit doors
(on the bars called "panic handles"),
and armed guards in uniforms
who have little use
for the clever turn of phrase,
the slangy wit, the heartfelt
sentiment --- any lively song
that can make them forget
the world is a deadly place.

--- From Learning By Heart
(University of Iowa Press)


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