She pulled the cap down tighter,
dabbed a spit-swabbed finger to get the sleep out of my eye.
I smiled clumsily
lazily at 6 a.m.
too early for gunshots
and playing kick-the-rock on the street.
But she wanted to shield me from mean things.
6:10 and I waved goodbye to my friends
who boarded P.S. 120.
Five minutes later, she watched the bus disappear
like a Monarch in autumn leaves
Camouflaging itself in the city.

Shifting in my seat, pulling my socks up higher,
I looked around at the bright by birthright faces.
My face shone with the help of Vaseline.
I occupied my time, as 6:45 approached,
sitting on stairs flanked by hall monitors in orange coats.
They greeted me curiously
as if to see a face like mine was more then a passing attraction.
I smiled shyly, although I wasn't shy.
If you ever saw me in a foot race, I was the fastest guy.
Quick to clown anyone who dared to sit on my stoop.
I don't play.

And neither did they.
Recess came around, and I was the last to get picked.
But my report card sparkled with silver stars. Gold ones too.
Proud mama clucking although one teacher said,
"William is exceptionally bright, but does not participate."
Cut me a break.
I shuffled into breakfast in my older brother's shoes.
Mama darned my socks, and let the hem out of my pants.
Now I get on the bus without a second glance. Or a third.
Waving goodbye to my 120 friends as the buses merge
then separate,

I close my eyes and merge with them.
That way, I'll have someone to play with,
and at lunch, not feel funny about eating my meal for free.
That's what they called a subsidy.
But the other kids don't get it.
Sometimes they let me peek at their shiny silver coins
or lend me a nickel.
I save every cent and by Christmas, I'm gonna buy my mama a bracelet.
Or, maybe I'll just give her a card covered in silver and gold stars.

About the Poet

Syreeta Barlow is an Atlanta native pursuing a B.A in English from the University of Georgia. She received her A.A. in Journalism from Georgia Perimeter College and worked as an intern and editorial assistant for Upscale Magazine.