fiction, poetry & more


by Jonathan Moody

After what went down,
I vowed never to become a teacher.
Ms. Smith called on me—
the only black kid in class—to read
Jim’s plantation dialect in Huck Finn.

All the white girls glanced
in my direction but didn’t see
what Ms. Smith saw:
a runaway slave, who, like
Frederick Douglass,

had tricked his Master’s son
into teaching him how
to read, whose blistered
feet were tougher
than Kentucky coal.  

Her insistence, a pair of boots
too small even for Finn.
The more embarrassed
I became the more strength
she used to slip them on.  

First word I mispronounced
mirrored a baby’s stumbling
steps.  My navy Nautica
Polo, so drenched with sweat
if I’d wrung it out by the river

banks the Mississippi
would’ve overflowed.  
I think about Twain & how—
as a child—the Civil War
made it unsafe for him to enjoy

his life’s passion—sailing—
& wonder if he created
Finn so he could experience
those fantastic voyages
that were stripped

from him like the freedom
stripped from Jim.
Ms. Smith, who tossed
my enthusiasm for reading
overboard & acted all surprised

when it quickly sunk
to the bottom, who couldn’t
accept the fact I didn’t
have the stomach
to gut a body of language

too slippery for me to grasp,
charged me with mutiny.
If there’s one thing an English
teacher should never forget
is that for some kids books

are a safe harbor—for others,
solid oars used to paddle
away from the desolate
islands of Chaos,
Boredom, & Pain.


Jonathan Moody received his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Cave Canem fellow graduate. His poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, goodfoot, New Yinzer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PLUCK!, storySouth, Xavier Review, and is forthcoming in African American Review and Tidal Basin Review. He lives in Fresno, TX, and teaches tenth-grade English at Pearland High School.

November 2011