The Reading Specialist by Red Slider

Teacher poem
The Reading Specialist

In front of the old house where she used to teach
I smiled and swept away the phantom wads of paper
crumpled into balls of rage and frustrated thought
that tried to hide their shame beneath the sagging eaves,
ghost footsteps dragged across the leaf strewn porch
under the curious dancing lanterns in a spirit wind.

Cars from the suburbs that could afford to pay
sped up at the corner, past clumps of drug deals
that lay as heavy on the gas pedal as in the heart,
parents who’d run out of referrals slowed down to look.
One in five would stop and weigh the future of their child,
hoping for a fresh start. The others saw only blight and
drove on, hope abandoned in the rear view mirror.

The first visit was always the same. Those with cars
shouldered their fears and the anchors of their disbelief;
found the will to suspend smug certainties stapled to labels
that bespoke the prophecy of broken wings; the measure
of the distance their child would fall behind, the crushing
words blended into recipes of professional babble and fuss.
The others simply said, “I know he’s smart, please help us.”

The riddles of dyslexia, the puddles of decoding deficits
meant little to the reading specialist and never crossed
the threshold of her clinic door. Such brutal diagnoses
only seemed to certify reluctance, illuminate with darkness
the shadow sitting in an empty chair; things she swept aside
with a look that said, “I can see you. You are here”

She’d walk down the mean street to some graffiti-ciphered wall,
and ask him what it meant. “I can’t understand the words at all.”
she said, and he’d respond without a moment’s hesitation,
“Oh, that says, it looks, the South Tides want revenge.”
and rattle off a little Spanish, too. “Why, you can read,
as good as anybody else.” she’d say, “Same-same in English,
or in paint. One lives on walls; the other one in books.”

In grocery stores they read the labels on the cans,
or blended silly sound with dance steps, too.
They’d conjure words from ink stains as their fingers
flew across the page to find out who lives where
and what they do, and why the flowers bloom. Soon,
bursts of poetry and song left no crumpled paper
where their spirits touched the lanterns overhead
as they skipped across the porch and down the steps.
Walk or ride, she knew the library was next.

Does the reading teacher still live here?” he asked,
as I swept the leaves of time beneath my broom.
I choked the thought nature has been rough.
Her mind is gone, her reading days are done,
“Not for years,” I said. The past replied, “Just tell her
Joe’s a lawyer now, the one who read graffiti off the wall.”
then handed me a check and said no more. No need.
The swaying lanterns knew him well enough.

The Reading Specialist © Red Slider

Red Slider is the webmaster of Poems4change.org and Peacemonument.org

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