She is blackness
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
Alicia leaves school.
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.