We had a substitute teacher today.
He did this weird thing with his mouth.
Like he mouthed the words before he said them.
Like he was rehearsing them or something.
We didn’t like him. He didn’t tell us
why Miss Schluger was out. He just
shows up in the middle of our poetry unit
moving his mouth and mouthing the words
and writing something illegible on the blackboard
and holding the chalk like a pen so it makes this
sound like oh my god please stop and no one
can read it because it looks like algebra
or something. So CeCe Santucci
raises her hand and asks him what it says
and he does the mouth thing and says it says
What is the smallest unit of poetry?
like it’s math or science or something.
So Caroline Coakley raises her hand and says
in a voice that says she’s got the right answer,
the smallest unit of poetry is the stanza.
But he shakes his head no and opens his eyes
wide like he’s looking around for something
he’s already got and wants us to give it to him.
And someone says it’s the line, and someone
says it’s the word. And now my stomach is
making these sounds like oh my god please stop
and I look around and up and there’s Robert
Frost smiling down at me from his high
horse and snowy woods on the bulletin board
and someone says the rhyme and someone says
the foot. And I could care less because I hate
poetry now and this weird guy with his mouth
and his word problem like math in the middle of
poetry. Then suddenly it grows silent like everyone
is stumped or dumb or dead or something, and even
my stomach has stopped like it’s listening hard, and the sub
tilts his head like he’s listening hard too, and he’s smiling
like there’s something funny in the air. But
there’s nothing in the air but silence. And air.
You’re alive and riding your bicycle
to school and I am worried about you
riding your bicycle all the way to school
so I get in my car and drive like a maniac
through the dream over curbs and lawns
sideswiping statuary and birdbaths along
the way frantically seeking you everywhere
the rear wheel of your bicycle disappearing
around the next corner and the next and then
I am riding a bicycle too and sounding
the alarm which sounds like a bicycle bell
so no one believes it’s an alarm and I pedal
faster and faster my knees bumping up against
the handlebars which by now have sprouted
ribbons with pompoms and a basket attached
with your lunch inside and I’m pedaling to save
my life and your life and finally when I find you
in the dream you aren’t dead yet you’re alive
and a little angry and embarrassed to see me
all out of breath on a girl’s bicycle holding
your lunch out in my hand trembling with joy
~ Paul Hostovsky's work appears in Shenandoah, Carolina Quarterly, New Delta Review, Poetry East, and others. He has two poetry chapbooks, Bird in the Hand (Grayson Books) and Dusk Outside the Braille Press (Riverstone Press).