I mention Eric Garner.
All the usual tropes are in attendance.
This was not his only arrest, is in the front row,
wondering when we will get back to
what matters: graded things, things with points.
Her anxiety manifests in demands for rubrics
and in her bouncing leg, her rolling eyes.
She does things right, has no mercy
for digression, for mistake.
She will go home tonight and listen
to her brother and her father fight,
each so disappointed in the other’s
Next to her sits if he hadn’t been doing anything wrong
nothing would have happened to him,
fingering the cross she wears,
this Catholic girl who wants to be a nun
but likes a boy in class. It pains me
to watch her clumsy, unsuccessful bids.
The war inside her is constant
and unrelenting, but she has the naïve
trust in the world that so few
sixteen-year-old girls have anymore.
It’s hard not to envy her,
harder not to cringe against
the ways her knowledge may come.
Everybody knows not to talk back
to a police officer no matter what
is headed for the military, and
I can feel him wondering
what he would do:
chokehold or no chokehold,
chokehold or no chokehold,
can feel the adrenaline jolting him
at the thought, graduation
only two months away
and everything so suddenly looming.
It’s sad, but I don’t see how
that makes it OK to riot
keeps looking at his phone,
waiting for his girl to text him
from the math class three doors down,
waiting for her to tell him
where they can go later to fuck,
waiting for her to confirm that they will
again today, after practice, as they do
whenever they can, because they can
and because they are young
and because it is new
Maybe there’s a lot of racism
in other places, but
I just don’t see it here
has a hard time sitting in the desk
at six-foot-two, and wonders
how long he can lift
in the weight room after school
and still get his chores done before dark.
Meanwhile, just last year two people
in this class called me nigger
slides down in her chair,
trying to disappear out of this
conversation that is focused on her
without being focused on her,
as so many conversations have been
and stop asking me if I live on the rez
remains silent as always,
pulls the hood of his sweatshirt
further down his forehead,
turns his music
LouAnn Shepard Muhm is a poet and teacher from northern Minnesota. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, and she was a finalist for the Creekwalker Poetry Prize and the Late Blooms Postcard Series. Muhm is a two-time recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant in Poetry and has been awarded scholarships from the Key West Literary Seminar, Vermont Studio Center, and Sierra Nevada College. Her chapbook Dear Immovable was published in 2006 by Pudding House Press, and her full-length poetry collection Breaking the Glass (Loonfeather Press, 2008) was a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in Poetry. Muhm holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Sierra Nevada College, and was recently granted an 18-month Artist's Fellowship by the Region 2 Arts Council of Minnesota.