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poetry Safe Space

New Jersey teacher and poet, Carol Smith explains the hazards of racist content, subtle, accidental, sometimes deliberate.

Safe Space

By Carol Smith

Safe Space

In this English 10 classroom,

racism is not welcomed.

So, it sneaks in and hides.

It enters beneath rock band

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t-shirts and tattered Levi’s

or stashed in Jansport backpacks.

It crouches under desks

like a concealed cell phone

ready for activation.

Some days, it leans against the

pale blue cinderblock wall

with the quiet back-row listeners.

Other times, it sits up straight,

eyes on the whiteboard,

with the front-row hand-raisers.

Sometimes, it peeks at the self-isolated

Black kids staring out the window

at nothing.

Under the glare of linear fluorescent

tubes, it can be hard to detect.

Especially if it flattens itself to fit

in three-ring binders

with five-paragraph essays,

or when it slithers up onto

a bookshelf and wedges

between Achebe and Coates.

Often, it lies in wait within my

teacher-mouth, ready to burst

forth as an Anglicized stutter

of an unrecognized name.

When that happens, it echoes

off the linoleum floor or ceiling tiles

and ricochets off laminated posters

of Angelou and Morrison.

Carol A. Smith writes both personal and sociopolitical poems, often reflecting upon the intersections of the two. Her work is published or forthcoming from Poets Against Racism and Hate USA, Rising Phoenix

Review, Mobius, In Parentheses, and other journals. A Philadelphia native, Carol now resides in Southern New Jersey and teaches at Rowan University. She can be reached at Instagram: Carolasmith_reader_writer