This chapter is another poem, this time about Richard’s first day at Oakland High School. Slater’s poem is one solid verse of fourteen lines, and she describes the smells that Richard experiences on that day.
This poem follows a more traditional structure and looks much like a sonnet. This traditional structure implies that Richard’s experiences during his first day of school at Oakland High are common.
She begins with “The smell that is the lemon-pine-disinfectant / of just-mopped floors,” and the “body spray, reeking bathrooms, weed / smoke, morning breath—” Slater continues, “The smell that is the salty press of bodies changing classes / that is socks that is feet that is blood that is bones.”
Slater’s poem reflects Richard’s teenage existence, and this reinforces that he is not yet an adult. Furthermore, the mention of blood and bones make him appear more human, and this reminds readers that Richard is a real, living person, not merely a statistic.
In closing, Slater writes, “That smell is the pungent eraser that wipes / the whiteboard clean, so just / ignore the ghosts of last year’s scrawl / still there, still showing through.”
Slater suggests that there are lessons to be learned from the past, and that these lessons are frequently ignored. Also, the image of “the whiteboard clean” is a powerful contrast to Richard’s own black identity and it harkens the systemic and institutionalized racism he must endure.