I click lights on with a sanitized hand.
My desk catches my teacher keys as they jingle,
landing next to a stack of papers I’ll never pass back.
Then there’s silence
its heaviness settling like dust on the grey industrial carpet.
A tower of desks leans against the wall
with jagged metal limbs reaching up
toward fading fluorescent lights
as if tired of holding its own weight
I hear no belly laughs, no frantic page turning,
no chatter about the past weekend
no rhythmic pencil tapping on desks
no daydreamer’s sighs
or muffled cellphones buzzing inside pockets
I’m a performer on a stage
with no audience.
The ticking clock on my wall pulls me back
from the catacomb of my mind
So I stroll across the room, feed my orphaned plants sitting limp in their pots,
and stuff my cabinets with unread class novels,
finishing my quiet offering to the WiFi gods as I pray for their mercy,
and wait for the world to decide
if I deserve a cape or a handout or their scorn
as I snap the lights back off
and head to the noise waiting outside my classroom door.
My abdominal muscles can
No longer contain my chortles
Until the grey delta of mascara and tears
Flood my face
My hands clasping my knees
For support because I am so full of air
Grateful to float without my anchors
And forget about the weight of breathing.
An ounce more
a sliver of luck
(or lack thereof):
the only forces separating us,
besides the guards
gazing suspiciously through the stagnant air
and electric gates
lurching heavily to block access
in the rusted chain-linked maze.
Inside, we taunt stiff officers
with our giggles
out of our bellies,
ricocheting off of
out-of-service vending machines.
Our hopes work as balm
on wounds inflicted by mistakes;
our smiles serve as shade
from the heat of other inmates’ glares.
We share memories to feel.
We plan the faraway future to hope.
We throw jokes to forget,
like skipping stones
dancing on the duct-taped linoleum,
our laughter bursting out defiantly
floating around the watchful tower
and beyond the crowded walls.