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Worm, Rising | by Nora Brooks

Worm, Rising by Nora Brooks The first time I left Portland, I went to Transylvania. I got a job at a private language school near the center of a small city. Along the cobblestone street near the school was a raven that would hop down in front of pedestrians to scare them. All the students rose when I entered the room, their blazers a mass of maroon, winners of an application lottery. The students made up plays about corrupt traffic cops and suicide attempts, and we went to theater festivals to perform. At the break each day, some of the kids went to a café with me and sipped tiny cups of coffee. One of them told me I was brave, but I didn’t think so. It was only that I didn’t know of anything else I could do. I was reading a lot then, furiously. Ann Carson said: I like to open my bedroom drapes as wide as possible at night. I like to see everything. My boyfriend in that city had another woman who lived across town. Sometimes we all got beers together. I walked up to the wall along the school and waited for the raven to hop down. He just stood there, eyeing me, his giant black beak a razor at its tip. I came back home and got a teaching certificate. The easiest part about that year had been the walk to school, dreaming of what we would do in class. A year later, I was driving up and down the interstate to a farm town named Canby, a house and a man waiting each day back in Portland. * I pushed the chalk stub along the green board. The scratch of pencils behind me grew quiet and then stopped. “Pinche lombriz,” Jorge yelled. Juan’s thin face showed no reaction. He had three teardrops under his left eye. I had never heard of this particular tattoo before, one teardrop for each person you had killed. This was my first year at Canby High. All I knew was that at a minimum, I didn’t want to harm anybody. “No swearing,” I said. Juan’s arms lay loose across his orange desk. All the kids were sitting in a half-circle, my attempt at discourse and cooperation. There was no way to move without everyone seeing. “I ain’t swearing,” Jorge said. Juan turned his shaved head. Through the wide windows were visible the alfalfa fields along the edge of the high school. The building was like a ranch house, long and low. Outside there were the kids’ parents, working somewhere off in the long green grass. “We’re just joking, maestra,” Federico said. He flipped his hair off his face. “We always call each other like this.” “That doesn’t sound like joking,” I said. “Look, Jorge is a pinche burro, Lupe is a loca,” Federico said. “That’s how we talk.” “Maestra, lombriz just means worm.” Lupe tried to save me. She was my teaching assistant. We had shared a few afternoons of cutting apart sentence strips. “That’s not any more okay than swearing. Look, if you don’t all agree to stop, we will all have to sit here until you do,” I said. “Ay Federico, calmate tu boca.” Xochitl slammed her pen down. “I’m not trying to stay after school.” I hadn’t thought of that. Seventh was the last period of the day. “What did I have to do with this?” Federico…

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