In late afternoon, buses
line up at the curb, waiting
to take children home.
They’ve been in school for hours,
following rules, learning
letters and the shapes of countries,
feeding small animals in cages.
Every bus is the same.
The children say terrible things
on the bus. They use terrible words
for parts of their bodies
and the colors of each others’ skin.
Some children, of course, are happy,
knocking into each other
like puppies in a cardboard box.
Others slump quietly against
exhausted by what they now know.
We didn’t see what was coming.
and schools didn’t have enough chairs.
There was meat made with paper for dinner.
Disarray in houses.
Workers stood for hours at fluorescent stations;
came home with fists
When I heard shouting, I put on my shoes and ran.
Women carried phones for protection.
Children hid in concrete walls.
Field corn was poisoned. Birds
tore scapular wings on sky.
Who were the ones who betrayed us?
Why has the well gone dry?
Patricia Kirkpatrick received the Lindquist & Vennum Poetry Prize for Odessa (Milkweed Editions, 2012), which was awarded the 2013 Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Her work appears in many journals and anthologies, including Prairie Schooner, Poetry, and She Walks in Beauty. She has taught writing in colleges and community settings, recently taught in the University of Minnesota MFA program, and works as an editor for various publications and individuals.