#The52Project (17) – “Finish that one poem you kept left in your email drafts.”

“You don’t look like an English [teacher],” she said, without any intent to offend.

old words now,
then uttered innocently

still fell from her lips like a


impact unmeant
only implied.

its payload, something
the oft-posed notion;
no Nam as teacher, writer, poet.

I hadn’t ever really noticed before that moment of
silent explosion and shocked eardrum
making it only all the worse to realize because

she was right

People of my ethnicity
this shade of Southeast Asian sun-bronzed, war-torn brown
don’t usually work in fields like these
passions lying with the far more practical
but since the letters of my genetics and the chapters of my heritage have long passed editing
my every effort
can’t ever change that I don’t
“look like an English teacher.”

Years since
and here I remain
long resigned that I am destined to fall
age-wisened, all-knowing, immensely-eloquent, spiffily-dressed literary gate
this, instead, is the scene, as each bell rings:
tucked snugly under the brim of that day’s snapback
sleeves rolled
a pop culture pack-rat
sneakily weaving complex concept with words plucked from rap tracks
scurrying and bouncing between board and board,
as I speak
it’s true I’m not much for appearing informed instructor
more so Ritalin needing little man
too passionately excited by the discussion — and the caffeine — to ever

If truth be told, though, look is only half the issue, because I sound like one even less,
incapable of droning, commanding formality even if I wanted to be

authority does not rest in the tenor of teen-sized men who sound twelve
and never will

In the strangest way, that thought is what unchains me from it all

held back by no norms
my voice freely flows

code-switching and switching
and switching
in class
a loosely contained chaos that
moves from casual, slangy register to
speeches scripted and pre-written for poetics, I
sometimes accidentally let the occasional cuss word slip in too
(Shit. Forget you heard me admit that.)

That sight, is me,
me, doomed never to meet or look the average educator
a walking unorthodoxy who has opted to work only harder in defiance
giving even more of what little he has to what it is that he loves:


a day may come when that is no longer enough
but as the bell rings again,
the looks of my students let me know this small thing for now
so far, so good.


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