a test proctor


thirty students and laptops
along the room's perimeter

a pile of backpacks
between the door and a bookcase

fingers on keyboards
like rain on a sidewalk

warm, stagnant air
of early afternoon

five heads on desks
between hoods and forearms

cold coffee in a thrift-store mug
by the keyboard on your desk

a pencil eraser on a desk
120 beats per minute

a whisper
a nod


Odds & Evens

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2022.

I. bak kwa, n.

A new year, another long day
corralling teenagers into
an English class reading a book
half of them won’t open.

Stayed late again, grading essays,
finalizing semester grades.
The smell of pork in our foyer
from the dinner you’re cooking.

II. crafternoon, n.

You’ve been working late,
like every other January.
The sun sets before you’re home —
before you even start driving,
I’m sure. I created a sun
using some tissue paper from
the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet,
hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on,
so you could bask in its warmth.

III. haterade, n.

For 15 minutes, I ramble
about the grading system erroring out
all afternoon,
making me hand-enter each grade
for my 170 students.

You listen patiently
to complaints I’ve made
so many times before.

IV. orthogonally, adv.

After I place food on the table,
you take your usual seat
on the side of the table to my right —
the same seat you took
on our first date years ago,
saying that
the seat directly across from me
would be too far away.

V. shakebuckler, n.

I finally stop talking and
ask about your day.

You talk about the traffic downtown
on your way to city hall,
an argument you had with
Councilmember Meyers
about building better infrastructure
for busses and bikes around town.
“He said to me, no joke,
‘You bring this issue up
at every damn council meeting.
We simply don’t have the funds.’
And then, when I brought up
last year’s increase to police funding,
he slapped the folder out of my hand!”

VI. antiquating, n.

Meyers has been
— and always will be —
stuck in the past.
I’ve argued with him
— constantly —
throughout my entire tenure
on city council.

VII. oojamaflip, n.

There’s a term you always use
to describe Councilmember Meyers
that I can never remember
until you say it again.

The memory plays back,
but the audio muffles.
I see your smile, I hear our laughter,
but I can’t hear the word.

VIII. froideur, n.

I continue,
“It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea
he might be wrong or
should change course
ever. He just double-downs on
every. single. issue.
Even Louis Armstrong would call him
a moldy fig.”

You laugh.

IX. chicken finger, n.

Some students eat in my room at lunch —
the commons’s chaos too much for them.
They carry little cardboard bowls,
small cartons of chocolate milk.
We talk while we eat, and
they ask about you.
When I tell them about
your infrastructure bill
and Councilmember Meyers,
they are as heated as you were
at dinner last night.
They ask if they can do anything to help,
and I get an idea.

X. chopsy, adj.

Meyers gives a longwinded speech
at our next council meeting —
the first Monday of February.
His prattling is punctuated
by his wrinkled cheeks shaking
every time he sneers the word

XI. bonze, n.

My class’s next unit
focuses on world religions,
so I invited a priest
from the Buddhist temple across town
to talk to my kids.

They talked about

XII. japchae, n.

I take a long lunch
after the morning session —
long, because of the time it takes
to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both
by foot (because of the distance)
or car (because of the traffic),
which are the only viable methods of travel
due to the inaction of city council.

XIII. rakeshame, n.

Kids tend to talk in simplified terms —
good people, bad people,
nothing in between.
So when my lunch group talks about
organizing a protest,
I have to remind them
(albeit begrudgingly)
that Councilmember Meyers is a person,
not a monster.

XIV. passado, n.

The restaurant is empty,
like most days,
despite signage outside detailing
their deals,
their signature dishes.
They greet me by name (and title).
I watch car after car
pass by.

XV. maple leaf, n.

The season’s last leaf whimpers
on a branch outside
my classroom window.

Change begins with
whispers on a breeze.

XVI. anecdata, n.

While my lunch cooks, the daughter
who runs the cash register tells me
her family’s history — how busy
they used to be, before
Main Street became a highway,
starving side-street restaurants
like theirs.

XVII. foul case, n. and adj.

It’s so hard to not step in
when your kids — so full
of passion, energy — 
stumble over their words,
to not take the reins.
They need to learn this,
do it themselves.
You're just there to support them.

XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.

My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch.
I want to help them, and every other
family-owned business in my district, but —
I stumble over my words.
I can make promises all day;
promises don’t help people.
The laws need to change.

XIX. witches’ broom, adj.

Every day more kids show up
to prepare for a protest on the 14th.
They complain about
their families’s stores struggling,
not being able to get anywhere on their own.
They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.

XX. whoo-ee, int.

I wake up Sunday morning
while you’re making breakfast,
my phone bursting with notifications.
The top one is a message from my assistant
with a link to an article in the Tribune
in which Councilmember Meyers
calls my plan “unamerican,”
“an attack on our way of life.”
A day before the vote and he pulls this.
I hate
how little I’m surprised.

XXI. enoughness, n.

The kids decided on a walkout
at the end of 4th period
leading to a march to City Hall.
They timed it so they would arrive
just as arguments
on the infrastructure bill
would begin. They created signs,
flooded Instagram and Snapchat,
built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk
they’d have to take there.

XXII. dwaal, n.

As the session gets closer,
I sift through the notecards
of my speech, eyeing
the window to the courtyard.
You said your students would arrive
as the session began. What if
they don’t show up? What if
I fumble my words? I miss the gavel
marking the start of the session;
Meyers takes the floor.

XXIII. gyaff, n.

One of my students in sixth period
tells me some parents joined the march
with wagons full of water bottles and
granola bars from Costco.
Only one-third of my students remained
at the end of the day.
I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.

XXIV. genericide, n.

Meyers moves through
the usual talking points
as a crowd forms outside.
They pour in, all these kids,
fill the balcony, signs waving 
about their independence.
His speech drowns in
their cacophony.

XXV. garderobe, n.

I have to park in the library parking lot
a block away from city hall, because
all the street parking is taken.
Some students shout to get my attention
from the middle of the crowd outside.
They clear a path for me to get inside
to the staircase to the spectator balcony.
I look over a mountain range of heads
just in time to see you stand up
to begin your speech.

XXVI. woofle, v.

“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council.

“The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit.

“The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path.

“This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes.

“Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets.

“The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community.

“We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights.

“Thank you.”

XXVII. antical, adj.

Thunderous applause
as you step away from the podium.
Your name
chanted by students in the balcony.
Your face
so full of pride, confidence, triumph.
You wave
when you find my face in the crowd.

My heart is so full.
I love you so much.
I am so proud of you.

XXVIII. jump-up, n.

The path of progress
has a steep incline,
many switchbacks,

but eventually, we will
reach the summit; the future —
the line where the sky and ridge meet.

There is no one else
I’d rather be on this journey with
than you.

A Tsunami Advisory

She asks if you’re awake.

Your eyes struggle open.

Her silhouette blurry in your tent’s doorway
against the morning’s overcast sky.

Your throat attempts a word.

She tells you not to panic —
a volcano erupted across the ocean;
the National Weather Service said
there’s a chance for a tsunami
along the coast where you’re camping.
“Not a warning, an advisory.”

You nod your head, eyes closing.

She zips the tent flap closed as she leaves.

Brisk air bites your face,
which peeks out of your cocoon.
You see waves tower over the shore,
lift your tent, rip its stakes out of the ground.
You wonder whether
you and your sleeping bag would float
along the surf to the cranberry fields down the road.

You wonder whether
that would be the worst outcome.
You see your classroom; your students;
a painted rock gifted by one, defaced
with a slur by another, left under your desk.
You feel failure, consider the possibility
they would be better off with another teacher.

You remind yourself:
your brain does this all the time,
there is evidence to the contrary.

You can’t see any.

haikus for distance learning

each section is based on the oxford english dictionary’s word of the day from september, 2020.

i. delibation, n.

dim empty classroom
desks shoved together chairs stacked
you’re alone in here

ii. situla, n.

yawn walk brew sit
meeting in fifteen minutes
you need to wake up

iii. smack talk, n.

a grid of faces
nodding and mumbling about
low expectations

iv. chin-stroking, n.

should you say something
they all seem to agree
maybe you don’t know

v. bird colonel, n.

your principal
closes with encouraging words
a hurricane’s eye

vi. croquembouche, n.

mailbox run before first class
a stack of cans along the top
it might not be so bad

vii. wallyball, n.

first live lesson
camera chat emails lecture
ricochet endlessly

viii. coze, v.

office chair swivels
does not move away from the desk
vines around your legs

ix. dep, n.

you try to build bridges
with students made of pixels
something’s lagging

x. ruby murray, n.

in your eye’s corner
relics from previous students
convoluted contexts

xi. walklet, n.

passing period
mask up stretch your legs in the hall
see only ghosts

xii. pronoid, n.

no laughs after your jokes
all thirty-eight students muted
you’re sure you’re funny though

xiii. sea-puss, n.

your eyes strain head aches
dim your screens close the blinds blink slow
fight against the current

xiv. gypit, adj.

you cover your desk
with toys you name and talk to
stave off loneliness

xv. yat, n.

use abbreviations
codes other learning tools
make something together

xvi. chritophany, n.

look into the ceiling
a smile there says you’re doing great
maybe just seeing things

xvii. dulciloquy, n.

afternoon classes with
faces tired anxious sad
help them feel welcome

xviii. cannet, n.

last class ends you sit
first time in what feels like days
lump of exhausted flesh

xix. transitarium, n.

fight sleep need to plan
figure out how to help your kids
sketch diverging scaffolds

xx. ambidexterity, n.

talk chat help assess
teacher counselor tech support 
you wear so many hats

xxi. rooked, adj.

cover your walls
with your students's artwork
it’s their house too

xxii. headwark, n.

temples in a c-clamp
eyes gripped in wool mittens
too much screen time

xiii. pupil-monger, n.

wake up the next day
ready to try it all again
always getting better

xxiv. kibitz, v.

a tech issue
try turning it off then back on
a rote response

xxv. nutual, adj.

you blank on a word
wave your arms to convey its meaning
somehow they get it

xxvi. titanolatry, n.

think before you speak
they’ll remember how they felt here
don’t be that white guy

xxvii. adimplete, v.

log in see hundreds
of messages in your inbox
monday morning

xxviii. antennation, n.

sit for an hour
grade respond delete archive
reach them as best you can

xxix. arr, int.

spirit week hat day
make do with what you have
take pride in your work

xxx. ruderal, adj. and n.

this year isn’t
what you thought it to be
dig your roots deep

the spring we lost

i remember
the morning the order came that said
          we had to stay at home.
snow dusted the streets, coated the soccer field of my school
a week before the equinox.
my coworkers gathered around a computer to hear the governor say
          our schools would close,
          we would learn at a distance.

i remember
the morning i set up a workspace in our apartment.
each of my computers started updating—
spiraling dots, loading bars, flickering numbers.
stuck sitting and waiting as
          the sun rose through the blinds,
          spruce leaves swayed in the wind.

i remember
an afternoon— maybe multiple— where i laid on the couch,
papers to grade scattered on the coffee table.
i turned away from them and watched
          warm light come in though the sliding glass door,
          flowers bloom in the planters across the alley.

i remember
the afternoon where i forgot what day it was
after marking the day off the calendar in our kitchen,
after checking my phone multiple times to make sure, even
after saying it out loud.
maybe time is one of those human constructs that only exists insofar as it is useful.
          matte grey sky gives way to patches of blue.
          crows peck at the garbage bag sticking out of our neighbor’s overstuffed bin.
          squirrels jump between the thin pine trunks outside the window by our mantle.

You want to be a teacher.

You want to be a teacher.
 you had a great math teacher in middle school;
 you had an awful history teacher in high school.
 It doesn’t really matter—
 you decide to go to college.
 You struggle with the idea
 there is a singular source of information,
 there is a singular way to learn or master a skill.
 You get
 a piece of paper
 signed by
 a man
 you’ll never meet
 that says you are a competent educator.
 You sub in a couple school districts.
 You call it “gigging”
 to make it feel more temporary,
 a low tide at dawn.
 Your lesson ideas come
 like meteor showers—
 somewhat predictably, all at once.
 You put them in a folder on your MacBook
 called “One Day.”
 You get an interview.
 They ask you:
 “Why do you want to teach language arts at Rainier Middle School?”
 You want a job.
 You get hired
 in the middle of the school year.
 You adopt the building’s rules,
 their calendar,
 their lessons.
 The next year,
 an idea
 grabs you,
 won’t let go.
 You deviate from the calendar,
 tell no one.
 Your students get excited.
 Your students get engaged.
 Your students show you YouTube videos they found because of you.
 You get a new administrator.
 He demands fidelity
 to a curriculum he never used;
 one he knows next to nothing about.
 You feel walls sprout from the ground around you.
 You try to become a leader.
 You run a program
 only to see everything you built get thrown away.
 You apply to another position
 only to get turned down by building and district administrators.
 He talks to you like you don’t know how to teach.
 Your district liaison talks to you like you don’t know how to teach.
 Your new program head talks to you like you don’t know how to teach.
 you don’t know how to teach.
 There is a good five minutes between
 when you arrive in your parking spot
 when you exit your car
 where you sit and breathe.
 You don’t know what you want.