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Three Poems

Sometimes I wonder if I should not be a teacher

because children terrify me with their
tenderness. Danny, before he hated
me, would hand me sticks of green
gum wrapped in paper, “For you Miss”
scrawled between the lines. This was
back when we were generous
with our laughter, before I began
locking my door at lunch
and eighth graders took
to dismantling the soap dispensers
and bathroom stalls. Mornings are dark
now. Buses unload kids by the
hundreds, their headlights carving
white mouths into the shadows like
we’re in some sci-fi movie.
Julia arrives to class late
and coatless.
My mind keeps returning
to her thin, grey hoodie.
I watch as more and more of
my students fall asleep,
hair spilling on the desk,
delicate as a cracked egg.
I cannot be angry. I cannot with
draw, my love like artificial
snow in a snowglobe, thrown and still


October Means 

People are putting their coats
On again. Mother sends me
Supplements in the mail,
Says I should be careful

Not to catch anything.
Don’t worry, I
Almost tell her.
It’s been weeks since I held

A hand, and even then it was one

I trusted. Weeks of waiting
For water to boil. For fate
To bare her teeth at night.
It scares me,

That I’m no longer surprised.
When the girl put her mouth
On my neck without asking, I just
Went with it. I am learning

People will do as they please. And

Me? I’ve been eating
Mac and cheese for each
Meal. Resting my cerebellum
On the carpet, rolling ice

Around my throat like a necklace.
Out my window, oak groves
Continue their casual,
Familiar death.

Somewhere, a doe dares to stand

In violent headlight.
Somewhere, my heart cries,
A bell falling through water.


Strange Behavior

Monday morning.
I am thinking

about my inbox last evening– news.
E’s father died.
I am not supposed to

ask him about it,
says the counselor.

Any out of ordinary

should be excused.
Blooms outside my window
hang delicate as needles.

I turn away but hear it–

a freak of spring hail
stinging the sidewalk.

Maybe the day is still lovely.
Maybe we had meant to be more

Karis Lee is a middle-school teacher. She lives and writes in Washington, D.C.