Back to School Poetry from City’s Poet Laureate


A Hero’s Lunch

Once summer ended,
And the heat of fall bullied away the fog,
It was time to prepare for 
the coming campaign:
Third Grade.
And just as Thor took up 
his hammer,
Re-wrapping the leather grip,
And Captain America the shield,
With its freshly ground edge,
I went shopping,
With my mom,
For a new superhero lunch box,
Each year a defining selection.
Like my Marvel cousins,
My weapon was an alloy,
Forged steel I was certain,
A rectangular prism,
With rounded corners,
Shiny hinges,
And inside a special iron arm,
Designed to hold fast the milk-filled Thermos,
And prevent the slaying of my Baggie-wrapped bologna sandwich. 
The façade was a masterwork 
of art:
A bas-relief scene of Spiderman,
Firing off his sticky web,
While swinging from a flagpole,
Over the astonished city. 
The best part:
The metal clasp that secured 
the lid,
Which, that year,
I was able to bolt safe with 
a small lock,
Gotten from a gumball machine.
I wore the key around my neck on a shoelace.
Fully packed with 
restorative sustenance,
I took the red, plastic handle 
in my hand,
Rose from my kitchen chair,
Felt the responsibility 
sway to and fro,
And headed out, ready for long division. 

School Shoes
Elementary school,
Most likely fifth grade,
With my brand-new shoes,
I was sharp as a blade.
PF flyers, low-top, black,
Take my word for it,
I looked like a mack.
The canvas uppers,
Were rigid for support,
While the anti-stub toe,
Helped me kill at sport.
I dominated the court,
Ran the yard so well,
The second best jock,
To Sammy Esquivel.
For junior high school,
I had to travel cross-town,
Busing without the bus,
The truth — I was not down.
But my shoes that year,
A bona fide fashion trend,
That made me the envy,
Of every stranger and friend:
Adidas Superstars,
Now classic and chic,
All white, black stripes,
The edges had been pinked. 
The clamshell toe,
Was highly functional art,
It protected my tootsies,
And set me apart,
For this Euro look,
And cosmopolitan feel,
Let everyone know,
I was the new deal.
Jump ahead a decade,
Add a few more years,
Now I’m teaching middle school,
With some of those same fears,
For the early-teen crowd,
Is a mighty tough bunch,
You got to check yourself,
In the halls and at lunch,
My footwear choice?
Maybe over-reaching,
But I believed in my heart,
Surely Bo knows teaching:
Nike cross-trainers,
With the gray rubber strap,
Green tongue and front sole,
I was a fetching chap.
Now I’m getting ready,
First day, this year,
And I like what I see,
When I look in the mirror,
Dark gray foamposites,
Black swoosh, grooved sides,
From the PRESTIGE shop,
Is where I got these guys.
Now the truth be told,
I no longer move with haste,
But my kicks announce
That I still got taste,
And when I lace ’em up,
And tug my socks in place,
There’s an understanding look,
All over my face.
For fifty-four years I’ve been going to school,
And for fifty-four years I’ve walked way past cool.




Gene Kahane is one of Alameda’s poets laureate. He also teaches at Encinal High School.