Today's poem is by Joanna Smith Rakoff

Late-Talking Children

Explain the dark

and the air that fills
it past all suffering. Explain
cruelty, memory, words—

or how they take

a shape within—if they
float or dangle and we grab
at them, hold close the ones

our mouths can make,

the ones not stopped by tongue
or palate, those not drowned in spit.
We are not even that—

we use our mouths

to eat and scream or just
cry but we speak in unison
against you and the world

you made. I shout

in unison with the sheep
in the meadow and I think that some
thing far from here is all

that 'meadow' means.

They keep us all in one
class and when you see us at
the bus stop—start or end

of a trip—you must

think we are so good
and quiet, how we never fuss.
I wonder do they tell

the school inspector

what we are or why
we sit as we do, the pink lights dimmed
to make us comfortable,

or does he just

think such workers, such
busy bees.
Last year he did
not come in—he looked

in through the glass

beside the door. We busied
ourselves, began to copy things
from the wall—the shapes and things,

things like the sheep—

his words were mostly lost
in the glass—not lost but separated—
I heard him say we are


and see he saw us put
our cheeks to each other's cheeks,
saw our hands in our

hands, we put

the crayon in, and I see
the man beyond the skinny glass
as my sister, speaking help

me before

she ever walked. She crawled
toward a garden snake and had
it crawl to her and flick

its tail or tongue

to her. Imagine the whole
muscled body—its one long
intenstine—the dark inside

the darkness—dry

scales against the scales—
and the sound of it—all near and not
much below and I

ask you, we ask

you, what do you say?

Copyright © 2003 Joanna Smith Rakoff All rights reserved
from Crab Orchard Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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