How long was Noah a student at your school?
Seven years. Small as a sparrow in his pre-k classroom. Wore a navy tie under his gown at fifth grade graduation. During center time, he made boats from folded drawing paper. Pressed the edges with his palms, let the air go out of his lungs as he set his fleet into a tub of water. Made quick sounds like explosions as they sank, one by one by one.
Did you notice any unusual behavioral changes? Problems? Bruises?
Burns on his forearms, like purple bracelets. Consequences, Mrs. C. Cooking for Anna, Michael, Jasmin and mama, he told me. Lifted up his shoulders, flashed his fifteen-year-old smile. I untied his backpack once, exposed its tender insides—newspapers, books, some too hard to read, skinny ones with stone castles, Aesop’s fables and Lebron James.
Did you have a relationship with Noah’s mother?
When I look at her, I see Noah. Her hollowed out center of ache. I imagine the unimaginable. The open scar of her loss. She visits every so often, as if seeing me will bring him back. When he was seven, I had to call social services. She told me they strip searched her babies, looked under
their beds, listed the contents of her refrigerator. Told her when to get up, what to cook. Her anger, a thing I held. Should I have called? The answer always changes.
What kind of mood characterized his daily demeanor?
His eyes always carried the horizon. Inside them pools of the undiscovered. Cars with candy-colored tops, thick vines of ivy, yellow dragons on hillsides, the outer city paved in steel and diamonds. He gathered his moods—timidity, anxiety, guilt and so much distance, wore them like a costume. Maybe that’s why I remember him.
How was his attendance? Did he arrive late? Leave early? Sick a lot?
Mondays, we filled paper plates with ice cream, dropped scoopfuls into every student’s mouth.
Fridays, were costume day, Twin Day, crazy hair day, pajama day, favorite book character day and so on. Noah missed each one. Noah absent 55 days every year, for seven years. Mama picked him up early most days. A baby needed her brother.
Do you know if he was involved with narcotics?
I’ll say no. No drugs. He snatched chips from the bodega on Spofford. Plantain chips, spicy taco chips, sour cream potato chips, red Takis and corn chips, according to the school aides. I gave him bagels, apple juice, Bustelo, in case he drank coffee.
Roxanne Cardona was born in New York City. She has had poems published or forthcoming in One Art, Constellations, The Writer’s Circle 2, Door is a Jar, Writing In A Woman’s Voice, Poetic Medicine-New Voices, and elsewhere. She has a B.A./M.S. from Hunter College and an M.S. from College of New Rochelle. She was an elementary school teacher and principal in the South Bronx. Roxanne resides in Teaneck, NJ with her husband.
Image: “Aquatica Encaustica 01” by Bill Cawley