The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Jeri Theriault



St. Mary’s girl at the metro bus stop
pleated skirt    gray blazer    canvas bag silvered
with duct tape    MAYA in block letters
along the bag’s flap
                       hugs a book and opens
her flip-top Marboro Lights    taps out
one smoke
            stows the pack

                       all of this
as I’m walking by    eye liner   glitter
lids      fishnet gloves    got a light?
she smiles at me           sorry I say
Congress Street humming     her book –
Plath’s Ariel
                       I smile at that
and at her as I walk toward a different school
to teach English in a classroom with two tall windows
and green walls                       today’s lesson
the one about choosing action verbs   rather than
any form of the verb to be
                                   two boys play-scuffle
near the door and                   another boy cries
for his rabbits killed by a fox last night
and a girl worries about the test because she always
freaks out on tests and she never really learned how to study
and what’s the point anyway               and someone
stayed up all night playing
Assassin’s Creed IV                  someone’s surly
and mean because she’s so scared
and her parents think she’s not trying and of course she’s not
but if only
                      my students open
their backpacks                 their notebooks    open
their Huck Finns  their iphones  and planners   open
their mouths to say what they think     what
they don’t know                      haven’t read
what they can’t understand
                       each of them opens
and opening is not strong enough
though it’s clearly an action     a choice
both literal and metaphorical
                        and they are all different
and the same in their opening
even the girl with seven neat binders  white-out
and a ruler
            and everyday they open
this unexpected garden I try to tend
as they talk or remain silent     and swear
or close off      do their homework
or refuse to do anything
                        all of them exquisite
in battered Nikes          ipods and vampire
novels or Plath
                        I know this is it –
both action and being             opening
in them as they open
journals           and use soft
verbs    esp. the verb to be       (as in
this is who I am right now) like duct tape
like the singe of smoke
like the indelible letters
of a name




JERI THERIAULT grew up in Waterville, Maine. and attended Colby College as an undergraduate. She has been writing poetry most of her life. A full collection, Radost, My Red, was published by Moon Pie Press in July, 2016. In the Museum of Surrender won the 2013 Encircle Publications chapbook contest. She has the chapbooks Catholic (Pudding House, 2002) and Corn Dance (Nightshade Press, 1994). Individual poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Paterson Literary Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Rattle, The Atlanta Review, Orpheus and Company, Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology, French Connections: An Anthology of Poetry by Franco-Americans, and The Return of Kral Majales, Prague's International Literary Renaissance 1990-2010. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her teaching career included six years as English department chair at the International School of Prague. Now retired, she lives in South Portland and is married to the composer, Philip Carlsen.



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