Monday, February 17, 2003

Schoolbus Poem Of The Week

It's been dry and windy and, as the radio DJ says, in the single digits all weekend, so we -- Darcie, the baby, and me -- waited for the bus in the car, listening to the radio. Outside the students shivered by the flagpole; next to us another idling car held another faculty couple, our co-chaperones for the school trip to the mall. When the bus came we stepped forward to check the students off on the sign-up sheet and then joined them in the kind of silent repose which only happens on schoolbusses, something about the noise and the waiting making conversation all seem so futile. Some kids slept.

It takes an hour to get to the Ingleside Mall, just outside of Springfield. Upon arrival, we reminded the kids of the rules, and gave them our cell phone number on a little piece of paper in case of emergency, and then watched them move as a group through Sears and then, as they emerged into the midst of it all, they were swallowed by the mall people, and we were on our own. Then after about three hours we all got on the same schoolbus and went home into the greying evening.

I was just on time to attend the first meeting of the Northfield Writing Society, a group which appears to have risen from the long-dead ashes of a similar group I was in a few years ago; it's hard to sustain writer's groups over summer vacation, and they never seem to come back together after such a long hiatus. I had schoolbusses on the brain, and someone had brought an excellent chardonnay and I had too much, and I wrote about schoolbusses.


The smell of schoolbusses never changes. It's something about
diesel fumes and the green plastic seats
and the goo they use to plug the holes in the seats with.
And the smell of a woman who sits in her seat
all day with the lives of unbelted children
in rows numbered 1 2 3 in colored construction paper
behind her. And the smell of winter coats
worn unwashed all winter at the end of the winter:
greasy and slightly like pee.

Schoolbusses are loud with children's taunts
and furtive experiments with lunchmeat sandwiches.
They are boistrous with windows opened and closed
because it is too hot and then too windy. They are
germy with pulped white paper spit through straws.
There is, on average, one old piece of gum under every seat.

The best seat in the schoolbus is with your friends in the back row
next to the emergency exit with the red light.
The worst seat in the schoolbus is in the front row where the driver can keep
an eye on you.

If you had to explain schoolbusses to an alien,
or to my grandmother, you'd say "first, they are filled
with children, and the children are filled
with anxiety and hope and cheerios and maybe
George Washington's wooden teeth and an egyptian mummy."

And they are going somewhere.
Sometimes schoolbusses are on their way to school
or back from school. When this happens, children get
off and on the bus, either all at once or one by
one, depending on where they live and which direction
they are going. Sometimes they go to the science museum
or the colonial reenactment village,
and hang their coats up in the coatroom together
before collecting their stickers and handstamps.

The coatrooms smells like schoolbusses, minus the diesel
and the green plastic goo the seats are made of,
because coatrooms don't have seats, or engines.
But they are just as loud, and no one has to shout
"If you don't sit down this instant I will have to tell the principal."
And the children breathe their lunchmeat breath
and run their lunchmeat hands on the pulleys
and butterchurns while the busdriver has a cigarette
out behind the bus in the parking lot:
this is what schoolbusses are and how they work.

And if the bus goes over a bump and you are in the reallygood seats
in the back your butt leaves the seat, and if the bump is really big
and if the bus is going really fast your head can hit the metal roof
of the schoolbus and your butt might miss the seat on the way down
and you might land in the aisle and get yelled at anyway.

[afterthought: How different this poem is from other recent works is, I think, a function of two things: this poem was handwritten where the native medium of most of my work at home is the word processor, and this is essentially a freewrite, fast and furious and limited by the 20 minute block of silent, frantic creation that is the exclusive province of the groupwrite. And, to me at least, it is really, really different. Not bad...just different. Hmm.]

posted by boyhowdy | 12:09 AM |

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