The air conditioning sort of works. I can hear the whoomph
of the fan when it turns on, but it doesn’t work for very long.
The cooling system in this modified trailer-classroom
is like a runner who walks and jogs but never actually runs,
which is better than nothing.
I became a classroom aide because it’s difficult for me
to completely retire. It’s the first day of preschool for one
of the children who just turned three. She begins walking
around and around the edges of the room randomly
picking up toys and tossing them on the floor
with a casual disinterest, like this is what she was born to do.
She steps around a boy who just dropped down on the carpet,
to loudly grieve the life he left behind. The preschool girl
with the perfectly parted hair and pigtails, stops walking in circles
and starts to cry. This is empathy. Her nose begins to run.
I bring her a tissue. She tries to bite me, then tries to pinch me.
I step back and wait. She thinks better of it and puts her hand
on my arm. It’s small, it looks like a baby’s hand. She lets me
wipe her nose. She pulls on my arm hairs, one hair at a time,
absent mindedly, looking off into space with a disinterest
that’s not unlike tossing toys and wooden blocks on the floor.
She turns and returns to walking along the edges of this room
that is free of parents and grandparents. It must be strange to her,
to be left alone in this place with other children with special needs.
She doesn’t want to sit in a chair or join in any group.
She’d rather go home where it’s safe and familiar.
On the third day of school, she sits down with us during circle time
as the teacher shows the class pictures of objects that are blue.
Then the teacher encourages the children to join her as she sings
The Wheels on the Bus. They listen and move to the music but
nobody sings along. It’s so quiet I can hear the clock ticking.
Clocks don’t tick any more, but I’m an old man. I can hear it.
What Little I Know About Lori
She likes portraits of saints, lit from above,
heads tilted towards the light, palms lifted,
Lori’s great-grandmother was always old,
always gray, stern about religion, never danced,
never cussed, never understood why the world
was never nice, or at least polite.
Teenage Lori was parking lot popular, she stood
outside the schoolyard gate, stayed as far away
from desks as possible, she looked stoned even
when she wasn’t, maybe she always was.
I didn’t know babies would change her until
she was holding twins, one on each arm. Suddenly,
Lori was different. She swore she’d keep them
innocent. She did what she could to show them
nice things and keep the world away from our door.
If Lori sees a hummingbird at the feeder in our garden,
she assumes that bird is her mother, grandmother,
or great grandmother stopping by the house for a visit.
Lori has a candle altar with little statues and flower
petals. If you move away she won’t let you go.
She will text and call and pray for you.
Lori is always planning a vacation, or at least
the next event. When she has a moment, alone
with her thoughts, her thoughts start packing bags
and wondering what she’s going to wear.
Lori dreams about the end of the world, every night
there’s pestilence and earthquakes, giant ocean
waves sweep the children into the water, people
lift their hands, look up and pray, everyone starts
running, filling the streets, searching for higher ground.
Daniel McGinn received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts at the age of 61. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Nerve Cowboy, SurVision, Spillway, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. His recent chapbook, Drowning the Boy, won The James Tate Poetry Prize for 2021 (SurVision Books). He is also the author of 1000 Black Umbrellas (Write Bloody) and The Moon, My Lover, My Mother & the Dog (Moon Tide Press.)