Poem of the Week | June 22, 2011

This week we are proud to feature “Career Day” by Alexandra Teague. The poem is previously unpublished. Alexandra Teague’s first book of poetry, Mortal Geography, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and was published by Persea Books in 2010. Her poetry has appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Best New Poets 2008, and journals including The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, and New England Review. A 2006-08 Stegner Fellow and a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, she is currently in transition between Fayetteville, AR, Oakland, CA, and Moscow, ID, where she will begin in the Fall as Assistant Professor of Poetry.

Author’s note:

“Career Day” is based on a real event, although as a child, I didn’t really understand all the social mores involved (probably I still don’t, hence the poem). A few years ago, I was one of the only people in costume at a party; since my costume didn’t clearly announce itself, yet wasn’t something I would really wear, I kept self-consciously explaining. Strangely isolating, and, in retrospect, humorous. The idea that costumes can present any identity — even ethnicity — interests and disturbs me as well. When I was growing up in 1970s Texas, “Indian” was considered a perfectly viable Halloween costume, and no one would have corrected Wym for aspiring to grow up to be an Indian, if only he had worn the outfit on the right day.

Career Day

When Wym Van Wyk mixed up his Mondays

and walked into kindergarten a whole week early

in lace-up moccasins and fringe — two feathers

sprouting from his short blonde hair — we twisted

in our seats to point and stare. And a twittering arose,

confused, then joyous, body by body, that it was

not us, there in the one-ring circus of our fears.

We had been spared by oxford cloth and pleated plaid,

by parents who re-read permission slips. Our futures

destined to occur as planned:  the firefighter-presidents

chasing the ballerinas up the jungle gym, the teachers

eating candy chalk. But today we were children, and when

he began to cry we didn’t turn away. We watched

his war paint smear; we watched his small canoe

of hope get swept over the falls. We saw how

it happened:  the green-glass moment when the river

lied, and he poised on the brink — the first and last

Dutch Texas Indian — uncomprehending the eyes

of his tribe on the shore, merciless, the inevitable plunge.