There are two engines that make this week’s poem go. One is its subject: the speaker of the poem, a teacher, begins to see her students – really see them – as they struggle over their college essays.

The second engine is the form. It’s a “Golden Shovel,” a form developed by the poet Terrance Hayes as a tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.” Here, the poet pays homage to the great American poet Walt Whitman. Read the last word of each line down the right margin, and you’ll find buried there one of Whitman’s most famous lines, ending “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

Marita O’Neil teaches at Yarmouth High School and received her MFA from Vermont College.

College Essay

By Marita O’Neil

It happens every September: we write and I,

who have already sized up Jack, lanky and too


cynical for his seventeen small-town years, am

convinced that Devin, with her stare-not


to be messed with-and expensive Patagoni-a

smile, is lying to me with her bit


about needing extra time, and that she’s tamed

something old in her that lingers in her eye


as we sit shoulder to shoulder, her hair too

shaggy to hear through when she mutters, “I am


trying to write about my dad,” and an untranslatable

slouch creeps between us as she starts again, “I


am trying to explain, but . . .” what comes out is a sound,

soft and leaf-like, falling, and I can’t help my


glance, her tears – she holds them back with a barbaric

desperation that lingers on her fingertips as a yawp


pops out of George who’s dropping lyrics over

the quiet clicking of laptop keys, while sobs the


girl subdues into erratic inhales frame us like roofs

from all the childhood homes we’ve left behind, of


course, but can’t escape as she tells me: “my father,” the

day he shook so hard he stopped holding the world.


Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Marita O’Neil. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

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