Like Grecian statues
they sit quietly on the first day
waiting intentionally for the
acknowledgment of existence.
Andrew the ex-high school running back,
where his A's equated to touchdowns.
The field his temporary escape
from friends turned gang members,
college his final escape
from the irony of his city,
Guadalupe works two jobs part-time,
hits the books part-time,
supports her family full-time,
tries to save for her white wedding
as another problem set finds a solution,
her potential brighter than a meteor shower
off Saturn's E-ring.
Eun arrived not too long to America
F.O.B. her more sophisticated Asian-American
classmates call her,
she takes many notes but
never raises her voice,
contemplates changing her name to Ellen
for the convenience of her American teacher's tongue.
Deepak and his pugree
receive the suspicious eye on first days and
if the president announces the day orange,
he has the lunch table all to himself.
No one knows about his snowboarding trophies,
love for a Dodger dog or pristine collection of Jordans.
Laura, ex-con, mother, sponsor,
the classroom her first place
after twenty years of concrete and steel.
Her right thumb and forefinger,
with a shooting star tattooed between it,
turns grammar book pages judiciously.
pregnant at 16,
married at 18,
divorced at 28,
old enough to be a grandmother six times,
born before the freeways dissected East LA
into two halves of poverty.
David back from Iraq,
looks older next to young boys
who never held a razor to their pubescent faces,
writes 126 aloud, the number of people he killed,
wishes he could erase the faces of children as he learns
to become a father once again.
They leave in silence
intimidated by the syllabus,
amazed at the price of textbooks,
determined to return the next day.
"Perfect Attendance" is my way of paying homage to my students. It is a composite of some of the smartest Angelenos I have had the pleasure of teaching. This came to be after my fourth year teaching in the community college circuit. Every year I am blown away. These men and women are ambitious, motivated, and inspirational. I have been lucky enough to hear some of their personal stories, and I am amazed. Every semester I flashback to my college days and remember stressing about a final exam and if I had enough quarters for laundry. But that's it really. On the contrary, the majority of my students are paying for their own education out-of-pocket while holding down a job or two and sometimes a family of their own. Despite all that they have to balance, they show up and do the work to earn a passing grade. They are invested in their education. They care about their futures. This is not my poem. These are their stories, and I am simply a stenographer.