Pandemic Poem from the Classroom: Broken Pencils

Tiny pencil

I went in to my classroom yesterday, at the allotted time, and began the difficult process of packing up all of my students’ belongings into clear plastic bags. Everything from every desk. Everything from every locker. Odds and ends. The left-behind stuff of every kid, placed into a see-through bag. Stickers with student names on the outside. At some later date, their families will drive through the back lot, and these bags will be delivered to their back seat, and they will drive off.

It was very depressing work, really, almost like an invasion of their privacies — handling not just school work – graded papers and papers never handed in — but also, the odds and ends of them, the things from friends they kept close and the things they kept for reasons only they might understand. All of it, packed into a bag. It felt like a morgue, really, and I am reminded of scenes from military movies, where what material objects remain are gathered, honored, returned. The locker hallway for fifth and sixth grade were lined from one door to the other with plastic bags.

One image that stayed with me later in the day, hours after I had finished the task, was the pencils. So many pencils, of all sorts and in all conditions. Who knew they had so many pencils? I bet I packed hundreds of them, and many fell to the floor as I worked, some ripping the bag and falling out. All I could think about is, what might still get written? What did we not get written this year?

My poem this morning is all about that.

It’s the broken pencils
that give me pause,
as I label and empty
these steel desk drawers

into clear thin plastic bags
that refuse to contain you;
your belongings ripping at the
fabric of my work –

You’re spilling out:
unsharpened, snapped-tipped,
eraser-bitten, rainbow-ed
and graphite possibilities of
lines, circles, dots, smudges
stories, poems, notes, plays

These broken cardboard boxes
releasing wild Ticonderogas
to the floor, scattering and silent,
as if lions sit in wait

You are everywhere
in this classroom,
and nowhere,
all at once

Peace (packing it up but not in),

  1. Kevin,
    So sad, indeed. I’ve been back in the room every day (my home internet won’t handle video and Zoom) so I’ve been living with this for weeks now. I haven’t been able to pick up the pencils from the floor or wipe up the remains of the science experiment that boiled over during 7th-hour on the last day we were a real class. Kid-writing is still on the white-board. My partially drunk mug of tea has grown mold. It seems like an image from Pripyat after the accident.

    Your poem brought up so many emotions. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  2. These pencils represent the lives
    of so many students.
    Some are short. Some are long.

    Some have many hopes for the future.
    Some have few.

    Your referral to the battlefield is appropriate.
    In your classroom kids fight for their futures.
    Some are better armed
    than others.

    Walking through that empty room,
    with only these pencils as reminders
    must have been a haunting experience.

    One that has probably been repeated
    in schools across the country, even the world.

    When school reopens, will all the
    pencils be the same length?
    An equal starting point?

  3. Those pencils.
    So many.
    All sizes.
    Broken tips.
    Just sharpened.
    Blunt, ready to be.
    Thoughts held in
    a distant memory
    Lost words
    not erased,
    just unwritten.

    This post is so heartfelt; lost school hallway conversations — where are they now?

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection on teacher emotions on the loss of their “home.”

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