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3rd Place Poetry Winner: Public Service During the Fall - Sean Riley

It’s time to go home.

I drive fast

on the graffitied freeways

of a staggering past.

I turn up the guajira

to drown out what I can barely handle:

the meaning of decent labor

in a nation of fantastic scandal.

I stretch for the weekend

like a life vest

for two days of buoyancy

above the unrest.

But then my phone’s notification

makes it impossible to grip tight

and the vest vanishes.

I plunge back out of sight.

I seize the wheel and scream

among the plodding caravan.

Then I imagine my students’ faces

and try to form Monday’s plan

to comfort them even a little.

What should I say?


wasn’t built in a day?

The singer’s poignant note

pulls me back from my edge.

They’re kids. I’m their teacher.

I’ll hedge.

“We are moved so we stay moving”

I’ll say with a poignant smirk.

“So take out the reading

and let’s get to work.”

Yet once I get home,

I don’t think about what lesson I’ll try.

I get through the door, clutch my daughter

and cry.


Sean Riley is a teacher and writer from Seattle, Washington. His works on school integration and teaching during crises have been published in The Stranger and Cagibi.

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