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Elementary Gratitude

Daniel Miller

For the surprise that a school day continues for seven hours,

            Because back in the refugee camp it only lasted until noon

            If it lasted at all;

For free breakfast in the classroom that insures he is always first to arrive,

            Largest child in the grade, though mentally the hungriest, 

            Because he never had enough to eat in his village in South Sudan;

For the girl who now arrives on time,

           Tardy for half a year until the principal bought her a dollar store alarm clock;

For her smile, thin and slight beneath her dark head covering,

            A shy word of trust that transverses our separate languages;

For the B+ on a math quiz, 

           The first time he’s been told he’s not dumb,

           The first time he believes it;

For the field trip to the Ag Fair,

           Where they meet their dinners face to face, hand to hoof,

           And all pledge to become vegetarians;

For the coat drive that welcomes them from Myanmar.

          They have known jungle and heat and ethnic death squads, 

          But never before a winter;

For career day when little girls listen to the female engineer

          More attentively than they ever have to me,

          The spark in her eye because she likes to play with Legos and robots too;

For the boy who, while his playmates dream of pro-athletic stardom, 

          Is researching the difference between surgical and pediatric medicine,

          Because he will be the first in his family to imagine college;

For the inadvertent hums, the out of tune melodies,

           How she has learned a whole language from pop songs;

For the click,

           The shift in the young brain that finally connects

           Sounds to letters and letters to meaning 

           And a whole new world opens.


Daniel Miller teaches at a public elementary school in Texas with a high ESL and refugee population. This poem was written in gratitude to those students and families who add so much to our community and country. Miller’s short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals such as Balloons Lit., Cleaver, Entropy, Gulf Stream, Tishman Review, and Third Point Press. You can find more about him at

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