“What I Never Told My Draft Board” by John Bradley

John Bradley


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.

from Rattle #53, Fall 2016
Tribute to Adjuncts


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.”

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