Class Project

Imagine their surprise, those four second-grade children grouped
at a classroom table. With a little hand each one grips 
the single, fat, foot-long pencil the teacher’s brought today 
for a project—its yellow shaft almost hid under fists. 

They have been told, quietly: Write your first names. Do not talk. 
And do not let go of the pencil. After the giggles 
of disbelief subside, the pencil begins to wobble, 
caught in a tug-of-war (whose name comes first, shall be first inscribed?) 

or luckily dragged into line by glances, nods (but whose?), 
pushed and pulled always, tilted abruptly, inched and jerked 
(by how many?), nudged into shapes with wavering downstrokes 
that slip from caps to lower-case: why is “R” also “r”? 

The pencil can’t know how much the boy in blue sneakers fears 
the mauling of his name (is it still his, if others scrawl it?) 
or that the freckled girl’s mad she won’t be able to stop 
them from putting her name last (again the leftover)

or that it trembles because the blond boy who hates his name 
(pinned to him at birth) hopes he might be esteemed if they 
write it (but will it look phunny?)? The girl in green 
(her hand’s topmost): does she doubt she can get leverage enough 

to keep their crude writing machine from squiggling off the page? 
Even if the children beat the bell, the pencil’s point will be 
blunted, nearly broken; the stick, by four sweaty hands squeezed 
and grappled---ready for release into fresh classroom air. 

Now think of the teacher (her wit), inventing this lesson, 
or the parents (their faces), if and when they learn of it— 
and the kids (grown up), their hands and wrists maybe interlocked
for a fireman’s carry, or other random unisons.