In the Teachers' Room
The language teacher with aggressive hair
shouts to her assistant that the sophomores
"AREN'T READY TO CONVERSE YET;
THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH VOCABULARY!"
I turn from writing, "Nice image!" and "Keep going!"
on a hundred and twenty student poems,
to the newspaper's front-page color photo
of an Iraqi fireman knee-deep in rubble.
The man in the photo may be thirty or a hundred;
his eyes are tired in a way beyond speaking.
Small orange fires blaze from the ruins around his boots.
Some neighborhood in Baghdad. There was a school,
undoubtedly, where overworked teachers
aggravated each other. There must have been a market,
there must be some scattered fruit and shattered
bottles of oil, outside the picture. And the people?
He resolutely holds up his hose.
(Where are they pumping water from? What can still function?)
But we can't converse with him about these things.
We don't yet have the vocabulary.