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  • Valerie A. Smith


Updated: Jan 1

By Valerie A. Smith

young girl holding a notebook over the lower half of her face

It can't be what we're teaching. It could be

what we're not teaching. Could be the space,

lack air of, cement block walls painted cream.

Our fingers run through the grooves like icing.

Maybe it’s the food, the fights and rights to eat.

My college students ask to learn the real world.

I teach this job with taxes. Lessons come from

feeling good about ourselves, hoping in the end

they’ll feel good about themselves. Does it help

I plan to teach you in my sleep? I bring you up

at dinner parties, walked you to the counselor,

sat with you over plagiarism, offered us both

the chance not to climb the disciplinary ladder.

Haven’t I taught you to keep your mother from

taking your covid check? My lectures on ethos

are boring. Our class is the safest place to sleep.

Students should hide under their desks, behind

computers stowed under metal frames. We learn

with weaponry scattered about. We don't teach

enough about our feelings. We learn too much.

Our losses lie in wait to figure it out themselves.

Mass shootings beget mass murder. Mass is not

Catholic here. A tome of religion enters the class.

The bindings we reach for hang us by a thread.

Here, there's a hallway and an extra wall. I hope

my children never learn about it. They've been

hiding all their lives. Been taught the futility

of silence against the body’s bloody lessons.


Valerie A. Smith’s first book of poems, Back to Alabama, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. She has a PhD from Georgia State University and an MA from Kennesaw State University where she currently teaches English. Her poems appear in Radix, Aunt Chloe, Weber, Spectrum, Obsidian, Crosswinds, Dogwood, Solstice, Oyster River Pages, and Wayne Literary Review. Above all, she values spending quality time with her family.

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