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The White Girl Imagines For A Moment That She Can See The Future And It Is Just As Jimmy Santiago Baca Has Said

I’m starting to hallucinate in the afterschool program.

the world is melting…

Another Monday. My co-teacher is in college Mondays, and the Language Arts teacher never showed, so I was left alone with the little darlings. The director was missing.

There is a shift in the atmosphere in the cafeteria, a low-pressure zone where the director usually stands– the electricity before a storm which makes animals run around like they’re touched in the head.

Things started to fall apart from their moments with their neon-yellow and pink yogurt onwards. I had to chant each name five times to get attention. Lined up, the boys pushed each other chest-to-chest and stared each other menacingly in the eye.

They have shiny green plumed tails and hard talons. They wear doo-rags on their heads. I hear their fathers urging them to be men, and beyond that, a ring of white men howling for a Battle Royale.

They lined up and then fell out of line again, wandering off talking or hiding behind the play equipment. I couldn’t move them. It was literally like herding cats. Someone had a pumpkin, and it was thrown and shattered. There were tears, and then the boy with the pumpkin was slouched against the wall, refusing to move. I scooped up the shards. A mouth-breathing fatboy stooped to pick up the seeds.

I took the caved-in pumpkin to the principal’s office, and left it on his desk as a warning like a beaten head. Tomorrow I would have his own head on a pole. The next day I would have a school where every smiling, earnest third-grader could analyze DNA and explain to you the nuances of the Cultural Revolution.

I didn’t have the guts. I saw the principal, though. In a moment of bad judgement I sent a helpful boy with a crew-cut down the hall after him with the broken gourd. The boy returned without reaching the principal, his question for me written all over his face. The principal returned.

He glared at them like a basilisk, and shook his own green tail.

When we had them in the room, I held out the pumpkin pieces to him. Could you throw this away, please? No, he said, put them in the garbage here. I tried to explain that the kids already had too many demands on their attention, what with hunger and feeling unsafe and advertising and noise from their peers, and they were already complaining that the smell of pumpkin was a distraction. The principal frowned.

He got the point.

One boy who is reserved but violent began to move the furniture around. Another began to develop what looked like pinkeye as I watched. A third pulled out the same homework he has done for the last three weeks, and started grinding blobs of ink into the page. The girls whose teachers had pulled them away returned like starlets, screaming. I asked them to lower their voices. We can’t hear you! they shrieked. I tried again. We can’t hear you!

I looked at the one with the impish face, and her belly swelled. She got her way, and it was ready to have its way with her.

I coughed up phlegm from lungs which had been clear an hour before. My voice was fading in angry static. To call order, I dragged in a teacher from next door. You are so embarrassing, he told them as they listened in divine silence. You are so embarrassing, I think we should keep you from your next activity and sit you down in here and be quiet and make you copy an essay off the board about why you should not disrespect your teacher and why you are being punished for what you have done.

And they did. They wrote carefully and poignantly. And then, chastened, they lined up straight afterwards and didn’t say anything. No, no, I must be hallucinating. What really happened is they sat down right there on the storytelling rug in their grey numbered jumpsuits, and refused to eat, and banged the commodes and chanted, We want water! We want justice!

We climbed the stairs like they were Himalayas and we were Mongols unhapppy to be in service of the Khan. Upstairs there was no cooking class anyway. Upstairs the teacher who was supposed to be helping the cooking class said she had thought she wasn’t needed so she was helping the principal instead. The head teacher was ill. A fifth grader who didn’t know us took all our pictures, then took them again. Everyone but me posed.

We went downstairs too noisy so the assistant director said the kids would all be punished by sitting in silence in the cafeteria and reading. We opened the door of the cafeteria: cacophony, monsoon. The smartest kids said they couldn’t read; the slow ones asked for crayons; the spoiled girl with the puckish face screamed How old are you?, gauging if I was old enough to outrank her mother. I told her I was one hundred and fifty-five. Books were thrown and torn. Everyone grabbed The Very Hungry Caterpillar and started reading it upside-down.

They looked around them and saw which way the wind was blowing and started chanting: Hulega! Huelga! Huelga! The whole room took it up. Then I pulled out my guitar and sat at the cafeteria table with them. We all sang We Shall Not Be Moved.

Outside, the country was still undecided about who should be president. Big drops of slush fell from the sky, slicing at my cheekbones.

I really can’t say, I think I laugh to keep from cryin

so much goin on, people killin people dyin…


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