Because It’s Valentine’s Day

Bo Bartlett, History Lesson

High School Poem

Because it’s Valentine’s Day
My teacher says we ought to read some poems
So she hangs them up all over the school.

In the hallway, a poem about trembling field mice,
A nightingale won’t shut up between some lockers,
And in the boys’ bathroom,
Over the first urinal, right as you walk in,
Hanging on a pink 8 ½ x 11 sheet,
Plums somebody ate and was sorry about, but not really.

Nobody can pee after that.

It’s Valentine’s Day, but none of these poems are about love.
One on the door of the supply closet:
Death and a carriage and I have no idea after that.
Another by the gym:
Some girl named April piercing something with a root.
The spelling is bad, but at least it sort of rhymes.

They don’t all rhyme. And what’s more,
Others, no. No rhythm.

And on the page,
Some poems read like paragraphs
Cut-and-pasted from the internet by a monkey
Who just hits Enter, Enter, Enter whenever he feels like it, to make line breaks.

My teacher says
Every line matters, every word, every word left out.
“Even the punctuation points towards meaning,” she says.
But then she says a poem doesn’t have to mean.
At all.

That’s the kind of messed up thing that makes you
Need to check your phone during class.
But then your texts
Start to look like poems.
And you’re really freaking out.

Poems are not to be trusted.
Poems are word bombs.
You can’t take them through airport security,
Or into crowed bus stations,
Or leave them unattended or unsupervised.
That’s why they keep them shut up in books.

But she’s hanging them in the cafeteria, by the table where you get the napkins.

Sometimes a poem is like a cute little dog
At the animal shelter, with big, weepy eyes
Begging to be taken out for a walk, to be your best friend, to belong to you.

Sometimes a poem is like a cat
Stretching its head towards you, so you can just barely
Reach to pet it, until
It turns its back on you, lifting its tail
So all you see is its butthole as it walks away.

A poem is like a simile.

I don’t know what a poem is,
But I want to wad up this poem and throw it in my teacher’s face.
I imagine letting it fly towards her in slow motion,
But as it gets close, it breaks apart
Into tiny little paper stars.

They rain down on her like confetti
At a New Year’s Eve party,
And she smiles.

I’m gonna put this under her door instead,
When she’s at lunch.
She won’t know who wrote it,
But she’ll know what it means.


Ruth Rhodes is polygenerous, writing poetry, short fiction, plays, and non-fiction. Her memoir of a naked run in Alaska in earned her a nomination for a Pushcart Prize (Permanent Vacation, Bona Fide Books, 2011). Her latest project is a collection of community memoirs, Come to the Edge: Arrival and Survival in Del Norte County (Left Fork Press, 2018). Ruth makes a living teaching English at College of the Redwoods.

Bo Bartlett at EIL

Herbert Freeman Teacher Art at EIL

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