The National Poetry Review

Lauren Camp


When I met them, day one, the children waved, restless
electric to the glistening day! All carried the fables
of childhood in their backpacks and palms: simple
equations: known/unknown. They stood chaste and rustled:
girls in their coral and rose with their murmurs
and zippers of legs, and the boys to reprisals and insatiable
disposable noise, like tiny matadors or plangent
harmonicas. I already loved them. I tried loving them
less. I watched the sugarscrape of their silhouettes
on a long wall as their weedy bodies bounced into
my classroom. Outside, the desert miled with a slurry
of light and the ground banked broad snow. One morning,
everything merging. The future was flat on each table sticky
with tape. Nothing more than these weeks to answer
keen questions when they hadn’t yet spoken
a worry. There’s a crescendo and a bottom to an AR-15
bleating a room. We felt the intrusion with visible
pulses. I lurched my feet against door. Shudders of who
more than how: 27 small names nestled in tight. Locked
in the churn of a gun where giggles had lived. A waver,
their arms, my mouth, those bodies scrawled
to tile. After the final school bell. After the bus
stumbled away. After years, I will think to that first
promising morning, and the months later we widened
the definition of learning. Driving home that day
in that very cold sleeve of winter, I saw the horizon, a muscle
of sun letting go its confidence and touching a low point.

LAUREN CAMP is the author of five books, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press), which Publishers Weekly calls a “stirring, original collection.” Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Kenyon Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and The Los Angeles Review. Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Her poems have been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic.

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