Jacob Stratman

TEACHING STIGMA

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I ask students to consider three things
that they do not like about themselves,

aspects they hide in the shadier parts
of those parts that they do like or prefer.

I write my confessions on the board
as they write, crinkling their noses and bunching

their brows tighter, trying to rid their faces
of discomfort. Some look up at the lights,

the fluorescence that always gives me pain.
After a few minutes of harmless reflection,

of ice-breaking artifice, I ask them
to circle a few of the words—the worst,

the most problematic for them in certain
social circles, or maybe the one

they could wish a way if they gave it language,
a space to grow and then leave. Then, we go

around the room saying each one aloud:
a pronouncement, a profession. Some speak

confidently, "Iím bad at cooking,
"Iím no good with names," "Math."

When I declare that I will approach
each of them, wielding a Sharpee, and write

that self-selected blemish on their forehead
so that every conversation, every glance,

every question, every indifferent shrug
of the shoulders, every movement in the opposite

direction, and every stare will help that part
of them, that sliver of their existence, that corner

of a shadow, now public, grow big and stale
and become their whole, their constant

and complete, one of them asks if he can choose,
now that he knows, what will be written, and where.

 

Jacob Stratman is Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences and Associate Professor of English at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR. His poems have been published (or are forthcoming) in The Penwood Review, Rock & Sling, The Christian Century, BY&BY, and Elder Mountain Journal.