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Tuesday, September 05, 2023


a Back-to-School Abecedarian
by Jen Schneider

as vape pens shaped like highlighters 
bait back-to-school shoppers, and
calendar dates countdown to zero while 
   consumer price indexes shoot for the moon, I
doodle, dabble, and deliberate on 8.5 X 11 
evergreen notepad paper (Cornell pre-prints too costly),
factoring when, if ever, I might be able to retire.
gone are the days of happily-ever-after endings, the
hazmat team conducted their first of three scheduled exercises as the
ice cream truck, full of artificially flavored red, white, and blue rockets, circled
just in time for the teaching team’s fifteen-minute extended recess.
knowledge always much more than arithmetic, fiction novels, and crafting, but
lately my elementary teacher training (fully laminated) has been saturated with 
metrics and mandates for safety drills, evacuation plans, and 
naughty lists (I inadvertently neglected to submit my PD hours on time). 
obscure classroom updates (air conditioning still unaccounted for) battle exhaustion as
prep for required curriculum standards span 3,200-page, unillustrated documents—
    pronouns, prayers, and phonetics sources of persistent debate

quiet time cancelled along with Gender Queer, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Maus,
required reading heavily regulated. the school board’s pencils more pointed than
standard stick-figure sketches. with all of us stretched thinner than Silly Putty,
terrifying wars against AP African American Studies and critical race theory intensify. Sigh. I
used to fear bee stings (but now plan for virulent viruses) and I
used to trace united states outlines (but now track threats on social media pages). as
verified accounts confuse and Matchbox cars, Lego trucks and resident gerbils 
veer off course (circular cycles and run-ons spiral), while weekends are spent prepping to
welcome a new set of smiles in rain slickers, with fresh boxes of Crayola crayons and
X and Y graph paper stocked and stacked like formidable towers—what’s
yesterday is now         suddenly  today, and with no available substitutes and

zero room for error, I hope and pray, for a year of highlights, none of which are newsworthy.

Jen Schneider is a poet, essayist, and educator. She is the author of several books of poetry, with her most recent collection 14 (Plus) Reasons Why, published with free lines press, now available. If she’s not writing, you can find her teaching legal and justice courses in her favorite city.