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Tuesday, August 09, 2022


by Phyllis Frakt

What is “rule of law”?
What stops one branch of government
from becoming too powerful?
What is the supreme law of the land?
What does the judicial branch do?
I slip through a distorted looking glass
to prepare the class for US citizenship,
to speak, read, write simple English,
and recite answers to 100 questions
about American history and government.
On their side of the looking glass,
I simplify revered founding principles
that most of their American neighbors
learned in school, then forgot.
But the class must learn and remember.
So, we thrash through a verbal thicket –
pursuit of happiness, colony, revolution,
Civil War, civil rights, Constitution,
democracy, Confederacy, emancipation,
declaration, representation, discrimination.
They grasp at historic words and principles
as keys to permanent homes in America
with steady income, education for their children,
safety from vicious gangs or husbands,
freedom from fierce dictatorships.
Feliz once was a high school teacher.
She escaped violence, and cleans houses now.
Selim and his family fled their country,
running from false government accusations.
No job back home for Abeo, a stutterer.
On my side, I cringe at lessons about
civic ideals now sullied or out of reach:
no one above the law? checks and balances?
The class waits patiently for me to explain,
and I slip back through the looking glass.

Phyllis Frakt's poem "Recoveries" will appear in the upcoming edition of Worksheets 67. She lives in New Jersey, where she has volunteered as a citizenship teacher for ten years.