Untack them from the wall of the first-grade room,
the seals and gray fox,
the ones that have gone for soldiers.
Their curling corners, the way
the mammal eyes extrapolate to empathy,
were made to tempt us to false security.
Little totems (always pictured juvenile,
always alone in a frame of what we teach is habitat),
we thought you defended our little ones
from the close air and high walls.
You embodied the land we draw strength from--
running free above the blackboard,
you brought a gust of wilderness to animate the flag
at the front of the well-behaved room.
We thought you were what we hope
for them: creatures self-evident and free,
poor subjects for manipulation
or for puppetry.
Even when we knew you were soldiers,
(you who were pupils here
last decade and now have volunteered)
we were soothed to think you chose it
out of a guarding impulse toward the truth of us--
you would save the breeze that stirs the flag
before the flag itself.
Our focus was too tight.
Out past the tack-holes at the edge
of what we thought was the whole picture
are the set-dressers and the puppeteers.
Now you are barely grown, they will send you
to raise a flag and stand guard on it
in a place where the wrong wind blows.
Then there will be blood on all that tempting fur,
and your eyes will no longer seem
understandable. They will dress the set
and tell you it is your habitat
and that you kill in the name of those who are still children.
It will be on the heads of the puppeteers, not yours,
but all the same I will take you down
from the schoolroom wall.

Cyd Harrell, 2003. All rights reserved.
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