Two Poems by Robbi Nester

Dream it Right
Inspired by “Rogue Dream,” by Melanie Figg

I ride the city bus to my old high school. It’s my first
day at this school, but this time, my stomach isn’t
lurching like a Chevy with a bum transmission.
No headache in the spot between my eyes.
The school building, that black box, doesn’t
look like an ill omen, a cardboard carton
inside of which a small child might fall asleep
and be accidentally crushed by a delivery van
taking a shortcut down the driveway. It’s x,
yet this time, maybe I can solve the problem.

She enters the bathroom on the second floor.
Those girls are there, the ones who threw her
down the stairs outside the cafeteria every
day at lunch time. Their hair, teased high,
glitters like spun-sugar, eyelids the iridescent
wings of butterflies, spiky lashes the insect’s
folded legs, They grip Virginia Slims in their
long fingers, turn to look out of the window.
It seems, despite the paint and pretense,
they aren’t the monsters she imagined.

But I can’t balance the equation, never
arrive at the cafeteria, still eating lunch
in the bathroom on the second floor.


Miss Rabinowitz Shows Me the Ropes

At five, I could hardly wait to go to school,
with all the big kids in the neighborhood
to learn at last to write my name and climb
the highest monkey bars. I thought school
would be one big story time, like at the library,
kind teacher, smiling kids. When I first saw
the teacher, Miss Rabinowitz, I was sure
she was the one I’d dreamed about.
She was beautiful, so tall, with the smile
I had imagined, though it was painted on.
Her hair was perfect, every strand lacquered
in place, pearly smile serene as any swan.
But anyone could tell you—swans are mean.
They beat you with their wings, stab at your
face with strong beaks. Miss Rabinowitz
played favorites. She frowned at boys,
always dirty and unruly, rude, liked only
the dimpled girls with shiny hair, braided
neatly into plaits, who sat demurely
at their desks with ankles crossed
below their rosy knees. Hands folded,
they didn’t ask, as I did, why the sun
never shined at night, why worms came out
after it rained, how flies walked on the ceiling.
I was untidy, and always broke my crayons,
held the pencil all wrong, in my left hand,
socks unraveling around my ankles, too
short and sharp-eyed, I never would be
ladylike in any way. One day, in art class,
she told us to draw a picture. I wanted
to discover a new color, laid the crayon
thick onto the paper until it tore, a waxy
mess of an uncertain hue, like a fire
smoldering in the basement. It could have
been the time to show us color charts,
explain how mixing shades creates new
shades, or had us study photos of famous
paintings, where faces might be blue
or green, but instead, she pursed her
perfect lips, holding out my picture
with the tips of painted fingers and
declared, “There is no such color.
Is this supposed to be a tree? Trees
are brown and green.” I looked up at her
flawless face and saw she hadn’t seen
the leaves in fall or touched the ashy bark
of beech trees. I knew then that school
would not be what I hoped, a sanctuary
and a home. I would have to make my own.


Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at

3 thoughts on “Two Poems by Robbi Nester

    1. These get to the heart of so much about finding a safe place in a world that offers only harsh rejection, total and brutal misunderstanding…if you can’t find sanctuary, home, you’ve got to make your own. YES.

  1. Robbi, both of these poems are fantastic. “…like a fire
    smoldering in the basement.” Wow.

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