Joel's Plate


Joel’s teeth chattered noisily
shamelessly betraying him again.
Ten days into Indian summer and
His built-in weather vane
was signaling the onset of winter.

“You ain’t no man!”
Pealed into his eardrums.
It’s fresh cadence seeping through,
The knotted heap of perpetual questions
Lining the cockles of his heart.

Undeserved taunts spilled from
The lips of boys and girls
With sweet pubescence
Around the school yard.

Why at no cost,
Will Joel exhibit that false bravado,
The Big Apple swagger of his hometown?

Now, choppy phrases enunciated in pain,
Trip off his tongue as he tries to explain,
To Ms. Bona Fide, once again.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute now. Let me talk!”
Was all he asked, he explained.

His lanky back retreats into the tightly woven fabric
Of the special brown chair, as he waits for Ms. Bona Fide
To meet him half-way.

The iridescent make-up on her eyes shimmers across the table,
An oasis extending beyond the hospitable smile on her face,
Warming the strident ache out of the metal plate in his ankle.

“Young man, it’s gonna be alright.”

Like a glove, her voice wraps around
His 13 years and counting,
Echoing voices gone before,
The curative force of compassion,
In its measured prescription.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.


  1. The poem was inspired by an experience shared with me by a dear friend and Vice Principal at a local middle school. It discusses a 13-year old boy's struggle to fit in; the product of a broken home, and the survivor of a car accident which resulted in the plate in his ankle.

    We all know how cruel kids can be. It is absolutely critical that we instill in them compassion for others.

  2. Definitely! School years can be some of the most difficult and painful years for youth. Its so crazy how we are all taught categorically. Like there is no possibility for existence outside of these categories.

    I am sooo glad that my daughter has a diverse group of friends. She knows difference and not just accepts it, she loves and appreciates it. Is eager to learn more about it... and most importantly, is willing to learn from it.

    Great poem.

  3. My, oh my! What a touching little story. I remember throwing sand at a little boy who wore braces on his legs. I was about 4. I was sitting in a sandbox outside of a United Way daycare. He came over to join me. Instantly, I was AFRAID of him. I didn't understand his braces and I didn't know that I could just ask him, "Hey, what are you wearing on your legs?" Instead, I threw sand at him and he went away. Thirty-three years later, I still cry when I think of how cruel I was to such a sweet little boy. If I ever have children, I will teach them to love and accept EVERYONE.
    Damn, I wish I could find that guy and apologize.

  4. I recently heard of a sensitivity program being introduced at a middle school - similar to the diversity training that some corporations provide. It cannot happen too soon! I feel so sorry for the sweet boy.

    Tipsy Joe: Maybe some day you will be given the chance to apologize. But remember, you were too young to know. A four-year old child knows no malice. I wish you peace.


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