Poem for the Missing Student

For KV

She is blackness

smooth silence

can sit opposite you

and sink farther and deeper

into her own blank

stare. When at last she speaks,

she says, “When I lived

in that foster home

they made me eat foods

I’d never eaten before. Broccoli –

I’d never seen broccoli. Wouldn’t eat it.

So they hit me.” A small slap

in a short history of neglect. Now

eighteen. In a shelter.With her son.

“Why would anyone hit a child

like that?” She asks.You, her teacher,

are silenced by the simplest, unanswerable



Alicia of the blank page.

Alicia of the blank stare.

Alicia of the empty seat.

Alicia of the stealthy, sudden, seldom seen

scintillating smile. 


Alicia leaves school.

Alicia leaves.

Has left

many places.

Many times.

Been left

by her mother,whose picture

she carries, by her grandmother,

by school, by the world

that sticks to some people like skin,

but that slips from her like rain. 


Alicia left this room. Left behind the desk in the last row

back corner.Left behind a pink backpack, sloughed

off, forgotten on the floor, like a cliché

Teddy bear, used as a prop

in a PSA about neglect or drugs.

Inside the bag: A matchbox car

a superball and a lighter. 


Those who knew you

stoop over those three objects

trying to read the ball’s swirled surface.

Read the car’s toy-happy shine.

Read the towering lighter

torch of adult independence,

if that is, it weren’t bubble-gum pink.

Speak! we urge the ball that stands for resilience.

Speak! we beg the lighter that symbolizes

sparks of hope, danger, decadence.

Speak, we demand of the car: Speed. Freedom.

Lighter. Smoke. Superball planet. World of possibility.

Car. Progress, direction.

Lighter. Disposable. Cheap echo of flint, friction,

real fire. And what of the backpack?

What of the broccoli?

What of the luminous black hair?

What of the eyes? The smile? The empty seat?

If only you would speak.