Grading English 101 Essays

By Sam Pierstorff

Eight done and I can’t bear anymore—
can’t bear the fragments, sentences with broken legs,
crawling through each paragraph without the crutch of verbs.

I’m usually awakened by the poetry in at least
one student’s line—the girl with wild black hair,
plum lips, nose pierced like a dartboard’s bull’s eye—

or the hippie dude in a Che t-shirt, 10 years too old
for junior college, his dirty hair rolled like Havanna cigars.

But not yet, so far it’s just the late-night,
last minute usuals who think periods must be bullets
because it’d kill them to stop a run-on.

I loathe these long nights. The pit of my stomach
feels like a classroom of 4-year-olds with scissors
and a book on making kites.

I am sick of grading, sick of inserting commas
like fish hooks into the murky lakes
of each essay. It’s all sludge and algae.

Show me a rainbow trout, a steelhead, an ounce
of well-reasoned prose and I will dangle myself all night
on a pole of modifiers until something starts to bite.

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