When the alarm goes off, they file to the corner
farthest from door and window, any shooter’s angle,
while I scan the hall and lock the door,
hang a paper over the square of glass in its center,
shut off the lights. In the dark, we listen
for the boots of the school safety agents,
the door handle jiggling as they check
their list of the ways that we’ll stay safe.
The intercom clicks on to say it’s over,
and James raises his hand.
We’re starting Antigone.
The state is sick, James reads,
You and your principles are to blame.
The alarm rings, so we file
ourselves down, become small
as possible, orderly. On the news,
a black boy raises his hands over his head
and he is shot twelve times,
left to lie in the street, uncovered.
A white jury decides there’s no crime.
The students plan a walkout and a white teacher asks,
why a walkout, isn’t school the way to avoid this?
Shot while black, while unarmed, while hands
over head, the signal teachers taught meant,
I am friendly, don’t shoot.
The city sends an email:
The children will have feelings,
it says. Acknowledge them.
It also says, no walkout.
I lock the doors and keep them in.
The class blames Kreon for everything.
They raise their hands in disgust,
James’s hands casting a black shadow on the white wall.
Another teacher says, if the anger was productive,
it’d be different. In Scene III,
Haimon pleads with his father.
Be different this once, James reads
and looks at me. This isn’t a drill.
I think of the boy falling, the heaviness
of his body, the lightness of the air
rushing through the twelve holes,
the dust which blankets him without care.
There is such perfection in what we’ve been given,
the way all cameras attempt to approximate
the human eye. His friends said what they saw
but no one believed them.
Words are a blunt tool.
If the child is caught
outside the locked door,
we are told, we cannot
open it, that the child instead
should face the wall, should
turn his face to the cold
tile of the hallway and raise
his hands above his head.
This, we are told, is a signal
for when help comes. His hands
above his head, his face
turned to the wall: these say
I am friendly, these say,
don’t shoot, this
is what we teach them.
We ask what to tell the children.
What do we say?
They will have feelings, we are told.
MEGHAN DUNN lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she teaches high school English. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a BA in English from Boston College. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, Inch, Post Road, and elsewhere.
Audio recorded at the 2015 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
This poem was a finalist for our 2015 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York. Learn more about the contest here.