The chalkboard and the mirror were the same.
It set our teeth on edge to taste dust
clapped from erasers, to stand as if unclothed
before the class, screech that yellow stylus

across the black complaining board, repeating
our compulsory figures. Mrs. Fender raked
a kind of Freddy Krueger hand from left
to right, slice perfect parallels. We kept

inside those lines, seeded ideas. Some
took root. George Washington Bridge, George
Washington Bridge:
words to mutely mouth
when stuck without a clue. It looks as if

you're singing with the choir, reciting the Pledge
of Allegiance, one nation, invisible, and who
could you trust to say what that meant? Above
the trough where all the boys lined up to pee

a long mirror hung, flaking, permanently
fogged like Mrs. Fender's cataract:
hard to tell if she were watching you
or not. Once on a dare you tasted silver

peeled from the mirror's back. Your brother swore
you'd die from eating mercury. It seeps
into bones and waits, accumulates
like yellow dust in the creases of Mrs.

Fender's hands. We breathed it in, obedient,
unsharpened, industrious minors coughing through
our drills, our efforts reduced to that dust
we still taste on our clumsy tongues.

:: Ron Mohring, Beneficence (2003)

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