twice a week i teach philosophy to kids
at the salvation army. they’re eight, nine, ten. we sit
on cheap plastic and ask each other questions
which are better than answers. the kids almost all
have it tough at home. that is not something
i can fix. it’s my job to teach them to sculpt
a good society even if their hands won’t ever get big
enough to fix this one. some days they’re too tired:
one little girl falls asleep with her head in her hands
like she is used to sleeping sitting up and i wake her
to ask what makes art art. she tells me her papa is all tattoo,
so her papa is art, and so she is a little bit art also.
i have tattoos, i like how ink looks under skin but
i don’t think i would like her papa. on the days
he remembers to come pick Valentina up
i see teardrops pricked into his cheek. when he lifts her,
her body shrinks to half its size. i want to tell her
it is not your father’s tattoos that make you.
i ask the kids to draw a picture they think is art
and another they think is not, and Valentina keeps asking
for new sheets of paper—she can’t draw
one that isn’t art, she says. i tell her
that’s a good problem to have.


philosophy professor (rewrite)

when he talks to the life insurance agent on the phone,
she questions his propensity for risk:
do you smoke cigarettes? how many drinks
per week? how often do you exercise?

the chalk coated fingers of his left hand start
to finger the toothbrush that lives in the pocket
of his suit jacket.
do you regularly engage in activities like surfing,
downhill skiing, skydiving?
the dark tweed tugged across his shoulders
hides the dampness beneath his arms,
he twists his body as if trying to turn
off a leaky faucet.
would you consider yourself to be a risk taker?
he tugs the neck of his sweater and pulls
at his overgrown eyebrows.

the next day in lecture he tells his students
about his call with the insurance agent.
he dubs himself risk averse, cautious;
he leaves out the unstoppable leaking,
the spasms he feels in his thighs
when he repeats the words sky diving aloud.