Rachel Rosenthal was one of my Creative Writing students when she was in high school. (She graduated about a decade ago.) She did beautiful work, and one of her poems recently came up at school — or rather, the subject of it did — when one of the student community groups decided to make their service project this semester a campaign against using the r-word. First published in 2009, Rachel’s poem against this word was rooted in her personal convictions. I’m glad to say I have noticed a decrease in its usage among our students.
If I try to casually shout the word,
toss the syllables away like popsicle sticks with bad jokes,
down a hallway warped
by teenage hormones, my half pursed lips choke
on the R and swallow the E without chewing.
Failed math tests are not retarded,
not living people with minds brewed
just a little differently, just slightly deviated.
Biology fails to bring the word to life
with lectures on chromosomes and mutation:
Despite the high-definition, the laptop’s pixels of lifeless
DNA can’t capture the sensation
of passing time with my twenty-three-year-old
sister by singing Raffi, watching Toy Story, and tucking her into bed.
Rachel Rosenthal grew up in Houston, Texas, with three sisters and lots of good trees. She likes to split her time between parks and bookstores, drinking lots of Earl Grey in between. On the side, she just finished her first year of University of Colorado’s MBA program.