Fill in the blank

by Lucas Wildner

Fill in the blank

My grading leaves smiles upside-down

on quizzes that label the figure’s shirt

a wifebeater. For some, the word’s casual ugly

is the point. No permission sought

for a relic of Great days.

For some, my response is a nudge

enough to ask a neighbor. To google.

Oh, she whispers to a friend. I had no idea.

A bell rings—a word, world, overturned.

That we trust language to know our meanings,

I cannot be incredulous, yet I am.

The sea was wine-dark once.

Eeny, meeny’s tiger is fun if you can choose

to look away from the Black boy under the animal skin.

For years, I followed respectability’s

rule book: all of the characters

on my vocab quizzes were just characters

until I realized that meant they were straight,

until her vegan girlfriend showed up in April,

filled in a blank. An invisible curriculum

shaped by how and what we say and don’t.

So much to learn to unlearn.

Some, eyes rolling at my marks,

find the cost of attention too high,

too uncomfortable to pay yet.

Others need a space to realize they have space

to navigate a cultural landscape

eroded by etymology and connotation.

A student’s marginalia scores my quiz: This is gay

and I appreciate it.

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Lucas Wildner

Lucas Wildner hikes and teaches in southern King County, and volunteers for the Seattle Writers in the Schools program. His current project examines the relationships between internalized homophobia and white privilege. Recent and forthcoming work lives at Nice Cage, No Assholes, birds piled loosely, and elsewhere. On Twitter @wucas_lildner