More Dangerous Air

Newsmen call it the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Teachers say it's the end of the world.

At school, they instruct us to look up
and watch the Cuban-cursed sky.
Search for a streak of light.
Listen for a piercing shriek,
the whistle that will warn us
as poisonous A-bombs
zoom close.

Hide under a desk.
Pretend that furniture is enough
to protect us against perilous flames.
Radiation. Contamination. Toxic breath.

Each air-raid drill is sheer terror,
but some of the city kids giggle.
They don't believe that death
is real.

They've never touched a bullet,
for seen a vulture, or made music
by shaking
the jawbone
of a mule.

When I hide under my frail school desk,
my heart grows as rough and brittle
as the slab of wood
that fails to protect me
from reality's
gloom.

Margarita Engle, "More Dangerous Air" from Enchanted Air.  Text copyright © 2015 by Margarita Engle.  Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.
Source: Enchanted Air (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015)
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