Student Handbook

By Sara Burnett


A is for alligator and AR-15.

B is for backpack, bumpstock, bolt—

what you lock or run from.

C is for closet, where the teacher tells you to hide.

D is for duck.

E is for everybody hold hands as we exit the building.

F is for four or five friends eating lunch.

G is for gum and guns, which are not allowed at school, of course.

H is for house

or H could be for help.

I is for “I can” statements as in I can draw, I can dance,

I can hear shots—“at first I heard a pop

and thought it was a bag because people do that.”

J is for jiggle like jello: the handles

of a locked classroom door, the hands of a teacher.

K is for her keys jingling in a kindergarten classroom

and K is also for kindness.

L is for lockdown.

M is for music, maracas, magazines

of thirty rounds on a website “cheaperthandirt.”

N is for the NRA buying politicians, and thus schools—

and how is this normal? #neveragain

O is for over and over and over again.

P is for play! Pretend to be sleeping polar bears.

Q is for question as in why is it raining,

how are babies made, are you my angel?

R is for rules—look both ways

before crossing the street, clean up

your mess, report unhealthy thoughts,

or R is for reading, recess.

S is for school, obviously, and scared.

T is for teachers and two-hundred-and-eight

school shootings since Columbine.

U is for unthinkable, unpatriotic,

United States of America.

V is for vigils.

W is for walkouts, when, where, why.

X is for in the crosshairs, children.

Y is for yellow, slow down, and

Z is for zeroing out or in.


*The quoted text is taken from survivor Jonathan Coates, a 17-year old student, who was in the cafeteria at the time when a 15-year old shooter opened fire on the first day of classes at Perry Hall High School, in Perry Hall, MD in 2012. One student was critically wounded and teachers quickly disarmed the shooter, preventing further injuries and causalities. Classes resumed the following day.

About the Author

Sara Burnett is the author of Mother Tongue (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). Her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street,  The Cortland Review, Poet Lore, and PALABRAS: A Magazine for Chicano and Latino Literary Art, among other publications. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference to support her writing and holds an MFA from the University of Maryland–College Park and a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont. Burnett is also a former high school public English teacher and a mother.

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