They waited ‘til the end of school.
Then the intercom voice creaked, guardian
of order, but even teachers could not master
their faces; they wept and shook, daily
life unsteadied, torn apart. Door flew open.
We went out to tell our parents. Life closed.
I walked with other children, the village, closed,
dark doorways, dark houses. No school
tomorrow, would there be television, stores open?
The president dead, a catholic, hated, but guardian
of the free world, watchman over our daily
bread of breakfast, radio, school, sleep, master
of the button that pushed the bomb, dead, master
of airplanes, soldiers, tanks; war closed
in on the edges of countries, we pointed daily
at the globe, anywhere it landed, war. In school
we read the Weekly Reader, saw military guardian
ships and troops lined up to keep peace open,
no one talked about Korea but we all knew open
wounds in our soldier sailor fathers, each master
now of a house and yard but then the guardians
of life, their own young skin and hands, closed
medals in boxes now, shut drawers, in school
we did not learn this, this truth our fathers daily
worked to forget, to give us now so good our daily
rhythm, work to home, peacetime. Broken open
today on a city street in our own country, school
became a place of silence, our parents’ master
plan to never speak that name again, closed
story, watch the funeral on television, guardian
of world security, see the boots turned back, the guardian
black horse, the cortege, then we’re back to daily
routine, homework, bedtime prayers, something closed
down, less laughter, a wound to be covered, not open
to air and then put us soldiers in a battle we will not master
soft spirited, empty souled, untaught, some school
time thief, peace guardian, the casket open
children flat by daily rhythm none learn to master
tears and closed faces, shaking, the end of, the locked
down end, of school.
The mother curses:
I won’t fill out the gas forms
on her child’s asthma
until she brings her child
in for asthma care.
and a clock I can’t see is clicking
I hear snow in the safety
light on the wall
in the flag that keeps turning
my neighbor’s burning
lights I can’t
Pediatrician Kelley White worked in inner city Philadelphia and now works in rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her most recent books are TOXIC ENVIRONMENT (Boston Poet Press) and TWO BIRDS IN FLAME (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.