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  • Donna Vorreyer


Updated: 5 days ago

By Donna Vorreyer

The students can’t tell that, when I stand,

my vertebrae stutter like the return orbit

of a rotary dial, a quick and subtle clicking.


The long cord of my body once stretched

across rooms, pulled until its coils straightened,

taut with gossip or a punch-drunk crush.


Now the past perches awkward on my shoulder

between my chin and ear, sieve of an earpiece

whispering in voices I no longer recognize.


I begin to write the day’s agenda, the students

restless, young, a bravado born of screens and

lithe limbs and the fact that I am only a substitute,


a teacher-shaped cut-out to fill the void. Even

the dry-erase writing disappears too easily,

wipes away with the slightest brush of a hand.


After our class discussion in a Bildungsroman unit, a student asks me

By Donna Vorreyer

“Am I supposed to believe you grew up in a fucking sitcom?”

Surely I have killed off my bad memories, hidden them

in the coffee cans filled with nails and screws that lined

the basement shelves, left my trauma slain and buried

in the wide backyard. But in this conference, just the two

of us, I know he is mirroring his own distress, a terror

that creeps into him as he sleeps. And now I am in tears.

I’m not crying because this conversation is difficult, but

because he cannot fathom a home that isn’t.  I wish I could

explain how safe a place home was for me, that every home

should be safe. I’ll bet your dad was an asshole, he says.

All dads are assholes. I tell him that my father had rules,

set boundaries, gave us consequences for our poor choices,

that I try to model this in the classroom. He is not buying it,

says I must be lying, that everyone goes through bad shit

with their parents growing up, that my dad must have lost it

when I fucked up. So I tell him the story of a night my father

had to pick me up from a high school party where my friend

had gotten too drunk to drive me home. Me, also drunk, fifteen,

waiting for his fury. Silent at first, my dad started to laugh as

he drove, then sent me to bed with a grounding and a promise

that we’d talk in the morning, which meant he would talk and

I would listen. I tell him that I hold that memory close, my dad’s

face trying so hard not to split into amusement, to remain stern

and comfortless, but not able to. I tell him how many times

this happens here at school, the times I’m aching to laugh when

I should not, and still he scoffs in disbelief. I won’t promise him

things will get better. I cannot guarantee they will. When he asks

why I’m crying, I make an excuse. I don’t tell him how much

I miss my father’s face. How almost nothing feels that safe anymore.


Donna Vorreyer is the author of three full-length poetry collections: To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications. Recent work has appeared in Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Harpur Palate, Baltimore Review, and Booth. Her visual art has been featured in North American Review, Waxwing, About Place, Pithead Chapel, and other journals. Retired after 36 years in public education, Donna currently lives and creates in the western suburbs of Chicago and runs the online reading series A Hundred Pitchers of Honey.

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