My class starts at 18:00. I get here 45 minutes early because you never know when and where you’re gonna get held up: passing through a series of metal detectors, getting frisked, driving to maximum security, logging into multiple registers to document that you’ve been here.
Two suits walk in behind me (must be serious, that kind of get-up in muggy June heat). I’m stayed in the booth: the comptroller in the center of the arcade keeps all the gates locked. S. C. O. Matthews leans back in his chair, crosses his boots on top of the desk, and laces his hands behind his head. The radio blares. He cracks his chewing gum. I hate gum–it gets stuck everywhere it doesn’t belong. Through the tinted window, I watch a flock of Canada geese with their goslings roam outside the fence. The officer watches me. The hum of the metal fan is louder than it should be.
When the Special Investigations Division clears the compound, the arcade sparks back to life. I’m allowed to go to class. A twang of electricity unlocks the gate, and I enter the heart of the women’s prison. Later, my students tell me that a sexual harassment case is pending. Searches. Interrogation. Blame. We don’t ask questions.
All of a sudden, we get word that the school is in lockdown. I’m in my office with Jake, one of my advisees. He has come to have a quiet spot to do his homework. Despite decorating with woven tapestries from Ecuador, a poster of the classic cover from The Catcher in the Rye, a dog calendar from the ASPCA, I cannot hide the cinder block walls painted the color of dry oatmeal. The fluorescent lighting casts an awful hue. There are no windows. Over the intercom, we are told that the building is on lockdown, move to a secure location, all lights off.
How inappropriate this would otherwise be: a middle-age woman locked in a dark room with a teenage boy. Trapped here together being safe. My nervous tic urges me to ask Jake if he’s okay, but I’m not supposed to talk to him, not supposed to make any noise to give away to a shooter that we are inside. I try to listen for his breaths, but the kid is damn quiet. The clamshell of my laptop intermittently glows.
After the drill is over, one of the supervisors unlocks my office door, scolds me for not putting the student under the desk. “A shooter could blow right through this door!” she says. When I look over at Jake, he shrugs his shoulders. This is what we do in school now.
at the line
Survival Kit [U. S. Version 2018]
A flock of pigeons crowds the cobblestone
the frenzy mars the view.
And I can’t help but think. . .
That’s how it is with us:
the descending on paltry crumbs
the pecking of brothers and sisters
to satisfy our own guts.
Today on my news feed
the report of one mother reunited
with her child
almost two months separated
after crossing the border
hopes and dreams flung
like so many broken feathers
into humid air.
He hugs his mother
the way one does a distant relative–
the elderly auntie who lives down south
arrives in town only for funerals
wearing too much perfume
and a wide-brimmed church hat.
She takes his hand:
is a walk in the park
Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She is the haibun editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Room, and The Rumpus among others. She can be found at http://www.christinetayloronline.com. Follow her on Twitter @cetaylorplfd.