Been doing this for 22 years
You should know better, but you don’t.
The principal who hired you as assistant principal
without a liscense is an unmitigated bitch
and on your case because you are sympathetic
to the new teachers. She hired you
the people person, to improve morale
which you have done by taking the staff
out for drinks on Friday afternoons.
Now she hates you for it.
Relegated to cafeteria duty 3 periods a day.
The job: keep the thuggish boys
from the high school slated to close
off the fresh faced girls from your school.
Your life sucks.
But, there’s Isabel, Katrina, Milagros and Neli
period seven for Honors Spanish II
which you teach though your knowledge
of the language doesn’t extend beyond
“Donde esta la biblioteca?”
You do this because the regular teacher,
an Orthodox Jew from Mexico City
spends every afternoon in your office
crying bitterly, asking Why? Why? Why?
She does not have a way with kids.
You do the honorable thing
and take her four most fluent students
and teach them Spanish.
They read Garcia Marquez, Lorca, and Julia Alvarez
in Español while you teach in English,
then they work together in Spanish
and write essays which you give to
the nervous Spanish teacher to grade.
Katrina and Milagros are in your English class,
Katrina is a gifted writer. Milagros works hard
and volunteers for everything,
handing out papers, reading aloud,
erasing the board, translating phone calls.
Sometimes you wonder if Isabel’s jeans are painted on,
why she smells like lavender and mango at the same time.
She confides that she has not seen her father
in ten years. He has another family in DR.
It's flattering that she chooses to sit next to you
on the bus trip to Boston, falling asleep with her head
on your shoulder through Connecticut
and wonder why and what for she wants you so badly
to meet her mother who she is sure you will like.
One day Katrina brings in coquitos,
Puerto Rican eggnog.
You all agree it’s delicious.
Then she tells you it’s spiked with rum
and you worry you’re going to lose your job.
She tells you she was only kidding,
but you’re not so sure.
Milagros teaches you Puerto Rican songs about ole San Juan.
Everyone sings along. The next day she brings in Shakira
and Calle 13 and the girls dance, hips shaking
and jiggling while mouthing the words
and you know this is wrong,
even though Isabel says ¿Maestro,cómo se supone
que cantamos sin mover nuestros cuerpos?
Maybe it’s a cultural thing
though you can sing without moving your entire body.
Neli, the anorexic, comes in drunk one day
and throws up all over her Math class.
You offer her a lifesaver and she looks
at you like you're crazy, or worse, an old man,
"Do you know how many calories that has?"
As assistant principal, you call her parents
and send her to counselling.
The next day she comes to class with
a hand written note (full of hearts over the i’s)
thanking you for caring, and telling you she’s
not mad that you called her parents,
and it’s obvious you care about her well being
more than her parents ever will.
The note says she’s thankful to have you.
You wonder if this is at all appropriate
full well knowing the answer
but what are you going to do?
Milagros arrives late for class
in tears "A man touched me on the subway.
Why do they always pick on me?
What is it about me, why me?"
You console her and tell her it's not her,
there are a lot of creeps out there
especially on the trains. You tell
her to be aware, which is the best
you can offer as she sobs uncontrollably
as Isabel whispers something in Spanish.
For the final exam the girls prepare
A feast for the other Spanish class
Morir soñando (orange drink and milk)
which is hopefully not spiked,
Plates of arroz habichuela,
empanadas, tostones, pernil,
dulce de leche, and mango ices.
They wear slinky shiny dresses, blue eye
shadow and fire red lipstick for the fiesta.
They dance to La Vida Loca, again wiggling
and jiggling and you worry what
the nervous Spanish teacher will think.
What will happen if the principal walks in.
The other students lose all sense of decorum,
make a conga line snaking around the room
before sitting down to the feast.
The girls each earn grades of 95 for Honors Spanish II
except for Neli, who was absent a few times too many
so she gets a 90. The year ends.
You leave the school,
get a job in a dismal school
where the students wear uniforms.
The year grinds to a close.
You go to graduation in Williamsburg
4 bouquets of tulips in hand.
The principal tries to have you removed
“Have you no shame?” she shrieks,
you wave her off like a bad dream.
Katrina goes to a near Ivy college in Boston,
Milagros attends a Catholic university in Virginia
Ysabel moves back to Santa Domingo
to live with her abuelos
Neli gets a job at Macy's doing makeup
on the first floor.
Facebook erases time and distance.
Isabel, Katrina, Milagros and Neli
Lolitas, luces de tu vida
lights of your life.