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The student poet met me in the Principal’s office. I was running late because another student had stayed after my last class. I dashed the ½ mile to the office as fast as my clodhopper-clogs would allow.
When I arrived the poet was sitting straight-backed in a red-vinyl chair in front of the Principal’s desk. I took the other chair and gave her a pat on the back.
“Sorry it took me so long,” I said as I gulped air.
“Not a problem we were just having a nice conversation,” the Principal replied.
“Did you read the poem yet?” I asked the poet.
The Principal replied, “No we wanted to wait for you.”
How long had she been sitting here surround by books and high school trophies.
Did she feel the stare of academe? Was she sweating?
“Okay, “ I grinned. “Are you nervous?”
“No. (deep breath), maybe a little,” the poet replied.
“That’s okay. It will be okay. That’s to be expected,” I said focusing on the business at hand. “ Why don’t you go ahead and read the poem.”
So she did. She spoke of Christ and blessings and being molested at age 5. She told tales of being forced to and pushed to and made to and deciding to. She shared how a girl survives.
There were tears in the Principal’s eyes (and mine) as the poet closed the piece. With her last words, I stepped in to build a bridge.
“Because this is a sensitive piece, we thought we should share it with you and let you, the Principal, decide if it should be performed on stage for our school’s poetry slam. All of the poets understand and respect that this is our school stage. We respect that you have the last word about what to allow on that stage. That is why we wanted to read it for you today. What do you think?” I inhaled on that question, held my breath.
“Wow,” the Principal looked directly at the poet. ”She smiled. Well said. I’ve never heard that message spoken quite that way before—and I mean that. You did an incredible job with that piece.” She paused. Her voice dropped, “ I’m glad to see you don’t look like the girl you described.”
I interrupt to say something about how we remind our audiences during the slam that pieces are not always biographical—they don’t always reveal the performer. Buffer. Balance I’m thinking to myself. Protect the writer.
“Do you want to perform it?” the Principal asked the poet.
“Yes, ma’am. I do,” she responded.
“Then, yes. Yes, you may. There are people at this school, who need to hear that message.”
The conference ended quickly. I seized the teachable moment and said to the poet, “this is the part where you stand up and shake the Principal’s hand and say thank you.” We giggled—all three of us—at my insistence on protocol.
Of course the poet soared; she took the proffered hand. She even reached out to the secretary who turned, with tears in her eyes to praise the poet, as we exited.
As the glass door swung closed behind us, I whispered, “wait, wait until we turn the corner.” Eyes wide, heads up, we walked with a purpose away from the Principal’s office.
When we turned the corner—high fives and happy dances, all the way down the hallway. Sweet!