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Stacy Swearingen


readingLearning to Listen

Josie sits
long arms crossed, legs slumped heavy, eyes cast down
focused on nothing
except her own adolescent reverie and utter exhaustion.
Last night, each night, her phone by her bedside,
she checks its feed, dipping in and out of its stream, panning for gold. 
Josie is smart. Half an ear on this classroom will suffice
for an A- .

Because of Josie,
I listen in the hallways
tell her “you were too mature for that boy anyway,”
and when she hands me Marina Keegan’s book on love, her favorite,
I read it overnight
instead of planning the next day’s lesson.

Morris towers over me,
his head bumping the globes of the highest-hung paper lanterns. 
He reigns over the other boys who flock to him,
his poker face revealing nothing.
At conferences Morris’s dad commands the table,
asking Why? How? When?
will he be assured of
Morris’s entry into an elite college.

Because of Morris,
I push past offense,
chirp “hello,” share a ridiculous joke,
and when he ends his story with “Fuck Princeton,”
I flinch, ignore the expletive, and say “Tell me more.”
His eyes fill and blur, and I take over the talking for a while.

Laura needs a few trusted teachers to know,
that he identifies as male.
He hangs back when the day ends
to tell me between halting breaths.
We hug, sniff, wipe our eyes, laugh.
I ask what to call him when we’re alone.
he smiles shyly.

Because of Lance
I keep my door propped open after school.
Stay at my desk ready to read his face,
and when he steps in, I ask about his day
or offer an encouraging opinion:
“You’re totally a Lance. I love it. It’s perfect!”

Candice comes to class late
every day, 
slides into her seat,
no essay yet.
Instead descriptions of last night’s late rehearsal,
the impossibility of homework on stage.
She ignores my wan smile
and bends her head to her work.

Because of Candice,
I question my approach,
seek the counsel of colleagues, consider her creativity.
And when she asks again for an extension,
I loosen my grip on the deadline, the rubric, say “yes,”
and inch myself closer to the big picture.

Giv snatches another kid’s ball cap,
careens down the crowded hall,
He turns back to survey the sea of reactions
His glee dissolves as I approach,
my palm outstretched, vibrating with irritation.
“How many times do I have to tell you?”
I ask.  He shrugs.

Because of Giv,
I find the principal who nods, agrees, and explains
the separation and fear born in the Kalpar family since the travel ban.
And when Giv sees me again and ducks into the library,
I follow him to say “Okay, I might’ve been wrong too. 
I should’ve asked what’s going on.
Next time I will listen first.”