The School Among the Ruins

Bierut. Baghdad. Sarajevo. Bethlehem. Kabul. Not of course here.
To this list add Gaza. Add Halabja. Add Fallujah. Add many more.


Teaching the first lesson and the last

—great falling light of summer will you last

longer than schooltime?

When children flow

in columns at the doors

BOYS GIRLS and the busy teachers

open or close high windows

with hooked poles drawing dark green shades

closets unlocked, locked

questions unasked, asked, when

love of the fresh impeccable

sharp-pencilled yes

order without cruelty

a street on earth neither heaven nor hell

busy with commerce and worship

young teachers walking to school

fresh bread and early-open foodstalls


When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare

misconstrues day and night when lived-in

rooms from the upper city

tumble cratering lower streets

cornices of olden ornament human debris

when fear vacuums out the streets

When the whole town flinches

blood on the undersole thickening to glass

Whoever crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone

knows why she does this suicidal thing

School’s now in session day and night

children sleep

in the classrooms teachers rolled close


How the good teacher loved

his school the students

the lunchroom with fresh sandwiches

lemonade and milk

the classroom glass cages

of moss and turtles

teaching responsibility

A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk

parents or lesson plans

diarrhea first question of the day

children shivering it’s September

Second question: where is my mother?


One: I don’t know where your mother

is Two: I don’t know

why they are trying to hurt us

Three: or the latitude and longitude

of their hatred Four: I don’t know if we

hate them as much I think there’s more toilet paper

in the supply closet I’m going to break it open


There’s a young cat sticking

her head through window bars

she’s hungry like us

but can feed on mice

her bronze erupting fur

speaks of a life already wild

her golden eyes

don’t give quarter She’ll teach us Let’s call her


when we get milk we’ll give her some


I’ve told you, let’s try to sleep in this funny camp

All night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking above us to somewhere

Don’t let your faces turn to stone

Don’t stop asking me why

Let’s pay attention to our cat she needs us

Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their ovens


“We sang them to naps told stories made

shadow-animals with our hands

wiped human debris off boots and coats

sat learning by heart the names

some were too young to write

some had forgotten how”

 Adrienne Rich, The School Among the Ruins, Poems 2000-2004, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2004.



  1. […] of Rich’s skill, but I’ve finally taken the time to make a deep dive. The title poem ( is amazing. It’s a perfect picture of our […]

  2. Nila April 10, 2014 at 5:03 AM

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