The Same Zip Code

we make home visits to welcome freshmen
who haven’t set foot in our school.
on the drive we discuss gentrification,
how these kids are coming across town
to our school because they think it’s better
(but it’s so much better than the remnants
of gangs that linger in their northwest ‘hood,
in the high school that hasn’t caught up
with the white money-chasers)

inside the first house, a blond bombshell
(shy as a country field mouse) lets us into
her gutted bungalow, replete with
granite counters all around, tells us she chooses us
because the people at our school were nicer
than the pompous competitor next to City Park

we make our way back to the south side
and step into a mansion built
on top of one of Denver’s many scrapes,
with oriental rugs leading from
hallway to music room to never-ending kitchen,
with a nice mother and a moody teenage boy
who grunts responses to questions
(because manners can’t be bought)

and then, within the same zip code of
block after block of mansions that
have all but stomped out the middle class,
we pull up to our last stop:
The Red Pine Motel,
settled along Broadway
between a bar and a pot shop.

in a tiny apartment without a table,
a man stands eating a bowl of soup,
his hand half broken and bandaged,
his pony tail tied at the nape of his neck,
his high-heeled wife potty training
her three-year-old in the adjacent room.

“you can come and look, do your check,
do what you need to do.”
we exchange glances.
do they they think we’re the cops?
are they used to this?
my colleague reassures him that this is a friendly visit,
that we have papers and t-shirts
and hope for a better tomorrow
(God save us all)

we sit on the bench-like singular piece of furniture
in the kitchen/living/dining room,
(no more than 100 square feet)
with a miniature gas stove and not a single
speck of a counter, granite or otherwise

the boy is running late
and both parents engage in disgruntled talk
when he arrives,
and they plain as day tell us what he’s like
and he plain as day answers.
they use words like imaginative.
photographic memory.

and the little girl sports her
oversized South Future Rebel t-shirt,
and the uncle waits outside and begs
to have a t-shirt too,
so proud are they of sending their boy
on the one mile
(the one million mile)
walk between their dwelling and
the grandiose Italian architecture
that will be his high school,
where he will walk past
block after block of mansions
in the same zip code
through the disappearing middle class
into the institution
that will grant him a future
or place him right back
into the thin line of poverty
that hovers over our city.

and this is what it’s like to be a teacher
in today’s world.

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