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Birth Order

                                    Katrina Vandenberg


By now Mrs. Knapp has yanked the bus onto the shoulder
and thundered into her hand-held mic she has worked hard

all year, she drove in a fright wig and fake nose
on Halloween, she held a Rubik’s cube contest for us

and will not drive us to the junior high until
we sing her a Christmas carol. But it’s too late,

the kids in the back seats know they have her,
and when she asks for “Frosty” they sing

“Jingle Bells” and when her jolly voice splinters
one-horse open sleighs are fine, just fine,

they switch to “Deck the Halls.” I’m not one of them,
can’t even conceive, I’m the oldest child at home,

one of the many who dot this bus. You can spot us
a mile off in dense fog because we often wear

the orange fluorescent belts of the safety patrol, criss-
crossed over our chests like bandoliers.

And so for Mrs. Knapp I would sing my heart out,
I would do whatever she asks, if only I could hear

my voice through two carols sung at once, or even
over Mrs. Knapp, who is weeping,

screaming, forget the mic, she’s brandishing
the brass key to the bus but acting as if we’ve got it.

The kids in the back may forget all this by lunch.
Some hum the tune she wants. Others glance

at their watches, press noses against dirty windows
and watch the grown-ups drive by in dress-up clothes.

We first-borns know the warning bell at school has rung,
and none of us can drive. We have to

bide our time and hate her quietly
until the day we’re old enough to seize the wheel.


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