Journalism in Verse – EST. 2016


What We Need to Do at School

in Gun Violence/U.S. by

Thursday morning, 2/15,
not 24 hours after “Parkland” ceased to be
primarily a geographical location and became
this week’s name of violence and death,
my job is to lead my students
through this semester’s ALICE drill.
It was scheduled weeks ago.
It’s the kind where we construct a barricade
in front of my door using filing cabinet, tables,
boxes of supplies, stacked “high and deep.”
It’s the one where we discuss the legitimacy
of using the hundreds of books lining the south wall
as projectiles to disrupt potential violence.
We are learning how to cope,
we practice.

I run other drills:
pushing them–
how many sentences can you successfully stack,
now a barricade built against ignorance and stasis,
things which can slowly take you apart,
so slowly you don’t feel it?
We do walk-throughs of what it’s like
to encounter words unknown,
which are their own kind of threat
ceasing only once they are taken on, taken apart.

Today, I’m evacuating them of their comfort zones
to try their hands at poetry,
to mimic Jackie Fox’s “Autobiography”
as a form of personal release and evolution.
This is not easy to do at 8 am
with at-risk credit-deficient teenagers,
but I know that it’s an uncomfortable kind of necessary.

Their faces stitch up into tired patterns of strain
as they attempt to please (themselves or me),
to play along, to manage this strange and painful task.
I had asked them: do you want to do ALICE
at the beginning of class, or the end?
They chose to push it off to the end,
but we can hear that the nearest classrooms had chosen
to get it over with. As we write in silence,
my principal and resource officer
rattle handles and bang on doors,
momentarily mimicking sounds of intrusion.

We look around, unable to pretend
we don’t hear this unsettling sound.
I say, I don’t know what’s crazier:
me asking you to write poems so early in the morning,
or doing it to the sound of us pretending
that armed intruders are like tornadoes.

They say nothing; there is nothing to say
at 8 am when all available emotional energy
is being used to write a reflective and honest poem,
when the truth is that we need to do both
of these crazy things,
or we might die.


Katie Chicquette Adams is a high school at-risk English teacher in Appleton, WI. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming online in River + Bay, Mothers Always Write, Heavy Feather Review, NewVerse.News, and Riggwelter.
Photo by Kevin Krejci.

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