Erika Meitner


Yesterday in the mail I got a package
from the Teachers’ union: a magnet
to hang on the fridge with their motto—
I Cope—printed in white on a red apple
which is what I’ve been doing lately.
Sometimes I chant ung namo
guru dev namo
, feeling stupid, thinking
dignity, serenity, integrity
the way Ellen taught us, twisted in yoga.
Other days it’s all I can do to board
the train going in the right direction,
rising mornings above the Gowanus projects
when the subway surfaces into sunlight,
thundering tin cars slicing through my head—
cranes, warehouses, piles of rock shooting past.
The conductor punctuates stops with,
Stand clear the closing doors, and I wonder
what I’ll yell today when Curtis punches
Julio with all his might, straddling
his curled-up body because Abel Pena
told him Julio said, Your dad’s a crackhead,
which he was before he died. But Julio,
he never speaks, which Curtis can’t know
because he rarely shows up to class.
And I wonder if this mix of anger
and sadness won’t eat me alive by June
since it’s only October and the ginkgoes
are just starting to drop their yellow fans,
ginkgo the only piece of information
I remember from sixth grade along with
that Jabberwocky poem. I wonder what
these kids will piece out of this mess I’ve made—
what old journal entries or ancient assignments
they’ll keep. The ginkgo leaves are everywhere
on the way from your house at sunrise
where I’ve unfurled my body against yours
to rock out this cracked world. With each step
away from you I compress, late to school
in last night’s clothes, sloshing coffee, running
past the burnt out bodegas, endless
tire stores, the disapproving stare
of the squat principal. I’m squashed with tension,
wound up, ready to spring. The No. 2 pencil
I need to fill in attendance has been
stolen, Michael Cruz is already at me—
Ms. Meitner, this writing class is bootleg,
a word my kids use for anything cheap,
imitation, though right now I’d kill
for moonshine because Chris Roman has nothing
to write with and Maritza is complaining
her journal is wasted—meaning finished,
not drunk—and I yell, Silent journal writing
for ten minutes. Come on kids, you should
know this by now.
I wait for my anger
to boil away, stop myself from telling
this turtle-shaped boy with enormous glasses
that he’s a bootleg student, stop myself
from losing my temper with Robert Castillo
who didn’t do his homework again,
though I won’t learn until December
that his mother throws him out of the house
every night from five to ten so she can
work as a prostitute so he really
has nowhere to do it. And when Elias
unscrews his seat and wears it on his head
instead of starting the Do Now on the board,
I make him sit out in the hallway
the same way I will months later though one day
he turns to me and says, I used to get beat
with two by fours in the bathtub for
wetting my bed.
And Lloyd, who smells rank
this morning, every morning, comes up to me,
puts his red mirrored wraparound sunglasses
over my eyes, shouts, Yo, look at Ms. Meitner!
She look mad dope
, and I sit down heavily
in my wooden chair with Lloyd’s sunglasses on
letting chaos overtake 601 for the morning,
laughing at the kids laughing at me.

Erika Meitner
Homeroom is from Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore (Anhinga Press, 2003) and originally published in Sewanee Theological Review 47.1 (Christmas 2003).
Poem, copyright © 2003 by Erika Meitner
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse