Lessons – December 2020
I am a substitute in this last week of school before winter break.
It is fancy dress day and my body sparkles in sequins with tulle
on my hips and shoes clicking bright down the hallway.
I roll this borrowed art cart into kindergarten classes.
I smile with my eyes, shout through thick cotton
and filters to 16 children in princess dresses
and tuxedos, old-man suspenders and shining tiaras.
We play dress up to wish away a year without hugs
and hidden smiles. Their desks: little clear cages of plexiglass.
Their eyes peer up at me for the lesson I’ve been left
by their teacher: artist and caregiver, now patient alone.
I am here telling them to draw an oval in the corner.
An oval is an egg, is an eye, is an avocado.
We draw a larger oval around the first,
which is now a bagel, a sushi roll, Saturn.
Draw a line out from the top of the oval
straight and true, mirror the oval’s curve
on the other side. We see a cylinder, a soda
can, a hot dog bun. We draw a wavy line
down the center of the page: an unfurling roll
a magic carpet unwound, a flag in the wind.
Match the wavy line on the other side, connect
the ends, wait as they laugh, recognize the familiar
toilet paper unrolled and waving goodbye to this year.
Goodbye to missing and distance, goodbye to fear—these
paper squares as symbols, our landscape paper as witness.
This is what artists do, capture this moment now,
as we pretend in our year’s best clothes
our covered face, our careful space. A mask is armor
is kindness, is costume. A belief that a cape will make
us fly. Let’s pretend! We dance and twirl, we substitute,
we draw all the things we have missed, lost, wish.
This week we are hope. We are small circles of light
dancing off sequins shining into new.
Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem serves to emphasize the multiple difficulties of 2020: grief and wishes and hugs. The device mimics children’s verse, while remaining firmly rooted in the complex realities of adulthood.