Drill

By Michael Collier b. 1953 Michael Collier
When the fire bell rang its two short, one long   
electric signal, the boys closest to the wall   
of windows had to raise the blinds and close   
the sashes, and then join the last of our line   
as it snaked out the classroom onto the field   
of asphalt where we stood, grade-by-grade,
until the principal appeared with her gold Timex.

We learned early that catastrophe must always   
be attended in silence, that death prefers us   
orderly and ordered, and that rules will save us   
from the chaos of our fear, so that even   
if we die, we die together, which was the calm   
almost consoling thought I had each time
the yellow C.D. siren wailed and we would tuck   
ourselves beneath our sturdy desktops.

Eyes averted from the windows,
we’d wait for the drill to pass or until
the nun’s rosary no longer clicked and we could hear   
her struggling to free herself from the leg-well   
of her desk, and then her call for us to rise   
and, like herself, brush off the dust gathered   
on our clothes. And then the lessons resumed.   
No thought of how easily we interred ourselves,

though at home each would dream the mushroom cloud,   
the white cap of apocalypse whose funnel stem   
sucked glass from windows, air from lungs,   
and made all these rehearsals the sad and hollow   
gestures that they were, for we knew it in our bones   
that we would die, curled in a last defense—
head on knees, arms locked around legs—
the way I’ve seen it since in nursing homes

and hospices: forms bedsheets can’t hide,   
as if in death the body takes on the soul’s   
compact shape, acrobatic, posed to tumble free   
of the desktop or bed and join the expanse   
and wide scatter of debris.

Michael Collier, “Drill” from The Neighbor (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Michael Collier. Used by permission of the author.

Source: The Neighbor (1995)

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Poet Michael Collier b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, School & Learning, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Activities, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Michael  Collier

Biography

Michael Collier was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953. He studied with William Meredith as an undergraduate at Connecticut College, and earned his MFA at the University of Arizona. Poet laureate of Maryland from 2001-2004, Collier is also the director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Maryland. His books of poetry include The Clasp and Other Poems (1986), The . . .

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SUBJECT Living, School & Learning, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Activities, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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