“What I Never Told My Draft Board” by John BradleyOctober 17, 2016
WHAT I NEVER TOLD MY DRAFT BOARD
Our English class, as you know, is too large, one afternoon our teacher reports. Some of you will have to go. I feel the clutch in her throat. Vexed strands stuck to her naked neck. The principal, she adds, keeps pressing for names. I believe you should choose—after all, it is your class. I tear a piece of paper from my notebook, consider who belongs and who doesn’t. I write a name. Whose I can no longer say. The kid with the leaky mouth, ink-stained shirt? The bully who tossed a friend’s bike down a window well, blessed it with his piss? We’ve all recorded our selections; the tally begins. Susan Abbott goes first, surrendering her paper ballot. Then the teacher stands before Sandy Berman, on my right. His empty hand. I won’t write anyone’s name, he tells her. Why not? she asks. Because I don’t want to, he explains. I know that moment—he’s in for big trouble. Now she comes to me, and I oblige, handing her the folded slip. She studies the name. Then her eyes study mine, a little longer than proper. Before she moves on, she re-folds the paper, puts it back in my hand. A small wave, drawing close the eyeless fish, shoves it back to shore, before my feet. Why won’t she keep the name? Will she commit each one to memory? How many times it appears? Most likely we’ll all choose the same students, the few who don’t deserve to stay. She makes her way around the semi-circle, the thirty-eight of us, slowly absorbing the names of the chosen. When done, she retreats to her desk and leans against it. She inhales a soiled breath. The principal made no such demand. You disappoint me, she says. Damp strands stuck. To the vexed voice. Naked neck. Only one student. In the entire class. Only Sandy. Refused.
John Bradley: “I’ve been an adjunct instructor at Northern Illinois University since 1992. As Illinois has no budget (our governor and state legislation cannot tolerate each other) and enrollment has been dropping, NIU has been laying off instructors. I teach mostly first-year composition courses.”
Ned Balbo: “In 2014, I was dismissed from my position as an adjunct associate professor after 24 years at a mid-Atlantic Jesuit university. Administrative turnover and the Great Recession had led to policy changes that prohibited contract renewals for full-time adjuncts in my category, and I was only one of many who lost a place during this period. AAUP (the American Association of University Professors) intervened on my behalf, to no avail; so did many tenured colleagues who found their voices ignored when they spoke out to defend the full-time adjunct colleagues whom they valued. In the end, their efforts succeeded in reversing university policy, but not before most of the full-time adjuncts affected had already been dismissed. (In the two years since, a few have been rehired at reduced status.)” (website)
Zeina Hashem Beck: “Abdel Halim Hafez was one of the most popular Egyptian singers, very well-known across the Arab world. He died in 1977 at age 47 in London, where he was undergoing treatment for Bilharzia, which he had caught as a kid. He was nicknamed ‘The Dark Nightingale.’ Stanzas 1, 3, 5, and 7 contain references to his songs. The word hozn is Arabic for ‘sadness,’ and Masr is Arabic for ‘Egypt.'” (website)
Bill Rector: “My poems are asymptotic curves that approach, but never reach, what I wish to say. But sometimes the approach is close enough for the meaning to be glimpsed. ‘Autumn’ was written after the death of my daughter.”