Lines composed on a spare piece of scrap paper while proctoring the Iowa Test of Basic Skills this week. It seemed like it wanted to be a poem, though I'm kind of out of practice at this sort of thing.
Disaffected rebel in the back,
Finished early, reads The White Mountains.
The kid who bounced
Out of his seat back in kindergarten
Cracks open The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Lunch Money sprawls open, cover-up, laid on
The desk as if this timed test is a momentary interruption
From the real business of finishing the chapter.
(First glimpsed years ago
as a tagalong preschool sister
dragging her contraband puppy into the book fair on a straining leash)
Slouches in her seat, munching an apple,
Immersed in Overboard.
It's her assignment for Humanities:
a survival book.
They've done this project year after year
Reading survival, living it, surviving
These annual fill-in-the-bubble tests,
The crush from class to class
The bumpy road from littleness into
The first glimmers of their grownup selves,
those selves now bent over desks
scribbling equations on scrap paper.
Four minutes left. I write it on the board.
But they're almost all done now,
bubble-filled papers folded properly into each booklet.
Some sleep, some stare at nothing,
But most are turning pages:
Uglies. Heroes Don't Run. Make Lemonade.
The Adventures of Ulysses.
Their double identities waver before me
Who knew them when, who could make
Them sit still for a story
With one practiced look.
They sit still on their own now.
All I have to do
(at least this one quiet morning)
Is hand out pencils,
Watch the clock,
Go next door and ask for quiet,
Clear time and space for them
While they hitchhike
Through this place
To find their own white mountains.