The assignment, after reading Aleida Rodriguez’s poem, “Extracted,” was to write a poem about a neighbor. In Rodriguez’s poem the poet describes going into her garden wanting only silence, but instead being accosted by the neighbor who” mispronounces words in two languages,” and the elderly woman with eyes that shine “like the windows/ of a house well cared for.” Rodriguez’s poem ends with this description of the mute moments she craves: “… nothingmore than the silent vines of my mindfeeling into dark places—blood-sweet—like a tongue exploring the hole left by a tooth that’s been extracted.”
I could have assigned a poem about the deep quiet we sometimes crave … or silence, but I was in a lighter mood, and wanted to read about my students’ chatty, nosey or noisy neighbors.
As everyone settled down to write, S. protested: “I don’t have any neighbors.”
“You don’t have any neighbors?” I asked, eyebrow arched in disbelief.
“No,” S. said. There was that mischief twinkling in her eyes, playfully challenging me.
“Where do you live?” I asked. Our school is in a small city. There’s no place to stand without bumping up against someone else’s music, the aroma of their cigarettes or coffee.
“In a building.”
“With no neighbors?”
“They’re invisible,” she pushed. “Like Casper.”
“Great,” I said. “Write about Casper, your friendly neighbor.”
And so S began to write: “She has no hair, no eyes, no nothing/ Only a stupid shadow …”
After class I rushed to the staff lunchroom, hungry, craving conversation. About fifteen minutes into the break we heard a cry. A student’s voice; the sound of cresting sorrow. Someone came into the lunchroom to tell us: “It’s S.”
S’s classroom teacher jumped up and she and a counselor went to find out what was wrong. Later we learned the reason for S’s wailing: the father of the baby she is pregnant with, had been assassinated. That is, he was murdered, probably in a drug or gang-related crime.
S’s cry followed me for the rest of the day and into my dreams. A stupid shadow
Today, I was working in my office late in the afternoon, just before students boarded the vans to go home. I heard another cry. This time it was a sound like the colors of balloons. And more voices joined in: teachers, counselors, everyone cheering.
This time another student, N., had learned that she has passed her GED. I want to let that sound stick to my clothing and tangle in my hair, like stubborn confetti.