All the students are sitting on the floor, so are several teachers,
even the principal. The visiting poet is sitting on a chair.
There are perhaps a dozen students — silent, serious, though
they exchange occasional knowing glances and smiles.
The visiting poet, too, is silent. So are four or five teachers
and the principal – the room soundless, except for exhalations
and the recorded message that harried them into this small room.
The room is the principal’s office and every available inch of floor
is occupied by the eighteen people summarily herded by the principal
into his inner sanctum. For once, the visiting poet is voiceless,
no well rehearsed lines on his lips, though his eyes take everything in.
The pre-recorded monotony of dread booms everywhere via the school
intercom — into every classroom, gym, washroom, office, stairwell.
This is a school lock-down.
Get into a classroom,
clear the hallways, or leave
the premises immediately.
The principal knows this is just a drill: a post-Columbine reality
of departments of education. His school has failed to measure up
in a previous time-trial at emptying halls, hence this repeat drill.
Teachers and students know the score. They know about the ominous
SWAT unit sweeping the halls for deranged gunmen and other such
non-conformists. Only the visiting poet is uncertain, wondering whether
he may somehow have inadvertently set all this in motion the moment
he set foot inside the school and headed towards the main office.
The principal checks his wrist watch again, giving it a shake as if to hasten time. The bored teens shift and re-shift their lank shapes as only teens can.
The teachers relax, their day now blessed by an extended recess.
The visiting poet muses on imagery inherent in the word lock-down,
its currency in prison language. Lockout, lockup, lock step, lock-box,
lock jaw, lock, stock and barrel. His mind spins combinations.
He has already noted the principal locked the door behind him
before sitting on the floor. It’s the first time the visiting poet has been
confined in a principal’s office – he reflects on the irony: it has taken
him almost a lifetime to achieve this rare distinction. He also realizes
that choosing to sit where he has, his head is the only target visible
above the window line. The poet has again made himself vulnerable.
The intercom monotony ceases as abruptly as it began. The principal
stands, thanks everyone for co-operating and this seminar of the silent
disperses. The pulsing din of academia bursts to life from the ashes
and in the visiting poet’s head metaphors ricochet everywhere,
as he now attempts to emulate the springy step of his nubile hostess,
trailing her down the now-raucous hall to where they await his poems.
Glen Sorestad is a well known Canadian poet from Saskatoon, who has published over twenty books of poems. His poems have appeared in over seventy anthologies and textbooks, in publications all over North America, in many other countries as well and have been translated into eight languages.
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