A Basic Skills Class in High School

Behind a wall of windows lighted
by May sun, an oak tree trembles in the wind,
while students curve into their books.
Ignoring the tree, the chalkboard crowded with images
and themes, they read Macbeth -- the comic book version.
Like mannequins, they sit in desks
carved with hearts, swatiskas, and curses.
The thin girl chews gum, flips pages with a hand
bony, perhaps from bulimia. The boy
in the last row, face scarred with acne,
his hair oranger and brighter than the cartoon
words he stumbles over, wrinkles his brow.
The tall girl, eyes still innocent, daydreams
of Brad Pitt, summer, fun. She packs a gun.
The bell rings. Ah, What's done is done.
Students whoop and clatter from rows
of scattered desks. Not even cartoons
and Shakespeare can woo them
from the streets where lunch money
is spent on cigarettes that hang from bored lips,
where girls in tight slit skirts dangle legs
in front of boys flexing muscles sculptured
in Slippery When Wet T-shirts and Calvin Klein jeans.
What is Macbeth to them?
Another father bleary-eyed with bills and booze,
firsts clenched in articulate rage,
a dropout with a tenth-grade education
roaring nightly for beer and respect.
His son, his daughter flee the house, taking twenty
from their mother's hangbag
before speeding to a Twisted Sister concert.
The mother waits up for them, sleepwalking
the neighborhood, pale in her thin nightgown,
stepping on broken Coke bottles, bits of glass,
fallen stars, murmuring . . .

- Janine Kelly