Linda Scheller

The Teacher

--after “The Emperor” by Yusef Komunyakaa

The grades she issues are written
with spittle, and at midnight she prays
for the power to move small fates
to the other side of town. Obscenities
are scratched into desk tops, and alms
of secondhand toys line the shelves.
As rhetoric belches from the lips
of politicians, she asks her father
for some vestige of her birthright, 
but her brother interjects, Sister, 
the CEOs will guarantee our freedom.
The clench of her fists at dawn
is more herald than gesture,
the visions of Glikl bas Judah Leib
the latest upgrade. A spaniel puppy
crushed by a flatiron is tattooed 
on her left breast. Administration
springs from closets and trapdoors,
expecting to find new addictions. Mars
buried itself in her childhood identity,
a penchant for labyrinths disconnected
from language beyond the usual appetite.
Her mother laughs, hauling a rusted level
into the court of chronic shortages
before the next wildfire can shave
the jaded peasants of their peccadillos.
This is the era of underreporting, white
asbestos-laced lunch trays and malathion
masking the stench of systemic injustice.
Her service years have carved her into a totem
suggesting drought as the panacea for flood
and rigor mortis as the logical consequence
of hope. She knits a camouflage of data,
trading reasons for perseverance with others
lacking the sense to abscond. At night her bed
is infested with undernourished children
whose heavy tongues and clouded eyes
varnish their faces with vague resignation.
Her doppelganger is stoned, making love
to a glistening boy on Kuda Beach where 
the wrists of the waves slide up the sand
to drop their presents of murex and pearls. 
This buzzed alternative runs in currents 
of electric regret below her aching feet
ringing with the strains of a pianist
wearing mittens. Shifting the load 
of spiked branches she has ripped 
from fruitless lemon trees, she whispers, 
Grandmother, look up through the dirt 
at the hours of my life that dive from the cliff 
like a peregrine falcon with frozen wings.