by Joan Colby

I am excited. Books:
So much to look for.
I am three and I can read.

We are seated at desks,
Given construction paper.

How to make a basket,
Folding and securing
With flour paste
That won’t stick.

Paper tulips that I also
Can’t cut out properly.
The dull scissors.

I dump my crayons
On the floor and won’t
Pick them up. Sister
Stands over me—a large bat.
Angry face cut out and stuck
In a circle. I won’t.

Chocolate milk that I don’t like.
Have never had. Drink up!
I throw up in the cloakroom.

Red-haired John Brennan,
Pasted with large brown freckles,
Tries to be kind. Joanie
Is sick.

Sister makes me
Clean it up. Rags and
Yellow soap that smells bad.

I am tired. There is no reading.
No one else can read. I
Am forbidden.

I chew the eraser from my pencil
Leaving a sharp metal rim
Of shiny gold. Carve my name
Into my desk. So there.

Sister makes me take it home.
Mother has been phoned and must
Transport it with the car.

I am a disgrace.
Reading. Writing. Digging my name
Deep in the wood.

Father wraps a block
With sandpaper. Shows me how.
I begin to grind away
Everything I hoped for.

Hating school. Hating Sister.
Still my name gleams faintly
Beneath the varnish father
Helps me apply.

I sit there all semester,
Fingers icky with paste,
Messes of ruined flowers.

I strike the triangle
In the rhythm band
With vengeance.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author as a preschooler.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Yes, I was three when I started kindergarten. I suppose my parents felt that since I could read, I was ready for school — this was a parochial school so I expect they bent the rules to accept me. Obviously, I was not emotionally as advanced as I was intellectually, destroying school property. LOL. My parents did not chide me, but saw to it that I rectified my error — sanding and varnishing that desk. It sort of set the tone for a continued rebellious attitude on my part, one that, I must say, has stood me in good stead over the years.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). One of her poems is a winner of the 2014 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. She is the editor of Illinois Racing News, and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 14 books, including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press, which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize; Properties of Matter, Aldrich Press (Kelsay Books); Bittersweet (Main Street Rag Press); and The Wingback Chair, FutureCycle Press. She has two new chapbooks Ah Clio from Kattycompus Press and Pro Forma from Foothills Press as well as a full length collection Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press. Colby is also an associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press.