Jul/Aug 2021  •   Poetry  •   Special Feature

First Bells

by Karen Carter

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on unsplash

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on unsplash

First Bells

At school, I check my temperature,
waiting for the mechanic voice to let me
enter the schoolhouse, the same monotone
each day to gnaw at me with authority.
"Temperature normal," it registers me,
usually 97.34.

O the noise, noise, noise.
School bells clang like my ocean
blue stainless steel coffee thermos
dings against my classroom keys
dangling around my neck
on a school-coded lanyard.

Some days these keys hang like a sloth,
my feet shuffling,
my head turning upside down from noise.

Most days the bells clamor
like an alarm clock tossing
me out of bed so fast
I have to tuck the sheets back
under the mattress, before
I gulp down my first cup of dark roast coffee.

The first cup of coffee is like a first kiss,
simple, short, not penetrating,
just sweet enough to long for more,
but not too long to linger with an aftertaste
of too sweet, like a honey bun,
or too stale, like expired dark chocolate.
I brush my teeth.

I clock in at the main office's
thump, thump, thump 30-year-old
keyboard. The last four numbers of my social
security I pound on it, before I head outdoors
across the lawn to the next building.

Today my principal jokes from a distance
with a teacher whose car horns
will not stop ringing,
like a tardy bell keeps screeching.
She shouts back,
"I can't turn it off. My keys are locked
inside my car."

Somehow the car alarm halts all traffic.
I enter the building with the school bells ringing,
this time, like waves disturbed
from silence rush ashore,
or like a hammer hits
the first nails of a new frame,
reverberating at 7:55 AM
when the new day begins,
first bells.