Fifth Grade


From our mostly white school in Kansas

we brothers were pulled

to be enrolled into Pomona School in California,

a place of multiple colors, multiple accents,

and multiple altercations.


Soon we found ourselves pummeled and pummeling

on the asphalt playground, our futures dependent

on how we punched back at the

white, brown and black faces that attacked us

between the painted white lines.


For homework we pulled kitchen chairs

into a circle in our dirt yard to watch neighborhood kids

with fat boxing gloves swing for the head.

We waited for our turns.


Fresh from white Kansas

we were a year ahead

in reading, writing, and math.


But we had catching up to do

in the other subjects.


Published by


I've been writing mostly poetry for many years and have gotten a number of works accepted in publications and anthologies. I'm most interested in communicating with poets for whom craft is a high priority. I enjoy finding and commenting on poetic gems in other people's work. For my own work, I welcome polite comments, whether positive or critical.

11 thoughts on “Fifth Grade”

    1. i am pleased that you felt the poem led you into perception. thanks for your perceptive reading. yes, white lines and violence. several times during “recess” i’d see a group of kids surrounding a fight only to discover one of my brothers as a combatant. and i can’t remember a staff member coming out to break up a fight. it was as if fist-fighting was part of the curriculum for us motley, working-class kids, as if they were preparing us for our desperate futures within those white lines.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and you achieved this knowing so skillfully. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for girls, it was dodge ball…getting intentionally whacked with the jump rope. Not Lord of the Flies, yet it kept me from becoming a delicate snowflake. Smiles…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Raw, yet accessible — nicely done. People so often say they envy children’s “simpler” lives…and I, as often, wonder where they grew up; so many of us had to navigate that arguable “simplicity” with the wits and cunning of a special agent, and carry the memories with us, indelibly stamped.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, carrie. i love the phrase “with the wits and cunning of a special agent.” well said and true! sometimes, because of my age, i think of my poetry as accounts from earlier times, either for younger folks or for older ones whose memories are not so good. so many of us seniors want to lapse into nostalgia, as if the tv program “leave it beaver” reflected reality for most kids growing up in the united states in the 1950’s. — michael


  2. I too moved to a new school in the 5th grade – from Gaffney, South Carolina to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I like the theme of having to catch up and of learning different lessons: of the role of violence in boys’ lives, of the interplay of different tribes. It’s interesting to think of 5th grade, which could otherwise seem a rather random school year in a kid’s life, to be some kind of common turning point.

    There are dynamic uses of memory in your poems: your own memories you utilize as the writer function well to trigger memories in the reader. The “fat boxing gloves” line reminds me of boxing with my cousin when we were younger, using our grandfather’s boxing gloves from the 1930s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. violence (real and imagined) and tribes (such an evocative term) certainly play roles in children’ lives. no wonder as adults we often want to forget all of that. thanks for your kind and insightful comments. i am glad that the poem works for you.


  3. I’ve already liked this but had some time today to return and comment. (Do you go by Michael?) I thought this poem wonderful in that it is not too abstract. Nor is it too didactic. I could spend time inserting my own memories and thoughts about what lessons might be learned. Fantastic work, (Michael?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. laine, yes, michael i am, although even that name, as common as it is, has a complicated story for me. but as to your comments, writing narrative poetry is often a balancing act between trying to tell a story while providing the distilled intensity that poetry can create. i am still trying to get it right, so your comments are encouraging. thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The innocence of childhood held hostage to a violent reality. No surprise that we grown up hostile, fists raised, wondering how to turn it around.
    I moved from a New Jersey school to one on Oahu – similar welcome though being a girl, a bit less violent.
    Your poem is poignant.


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