Returning Yesterdays

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Revisiting  grammar school days,
working class children,
sheltered in the shadow
of Mission Church
taught to get it right.

Seeing myself in the eyes of the children
a little boy tells me he has a mother.
Another tells me he’s from Guatemala.
He wants me to know he is good at reading.
A little girl tells me I have see-thru hair.

Checking homework at a child’s request
jars my memory to a timetable not my own:
A bad kid labeled Rocco,
A good kid named John.

Getting it wrong
Rocco sits in the classroom frozen,
bounded by fearful voices from the past.
Unable to think,
ugly words spoken.

Some wounds Rocco
never speaks about.
The things words have done
that no one will ever know
from those returning yesterdays.

With  books not quite hidden
from his snarl and his sneer, Rocco heard:
“Think you’re somebody don’t you?”
“Think you’re better than me?”

A confused hurt tightens and spreads.
I was afraid – afraid without
knowing I was afraid.


John Mac Phee is a first-year Ignatian Volunteer in New England and is a Community Service Coordinator at Emmanuel College in Boston. John helps the Community Service Learning Program provide opportunities for students to grow in their religious and civic commitments to service. John spent three months at Catholic University in Rwanda teaching Conversational English and continues to advocate and support the educational future  of Rwandan children.  

2 Responses to “Returning Yesterdays”

  1. Christine Curran

    A wonderful, rich poem about the experience if service. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Kathy Simisky

    Dear John,
    Beautiful poem! You are doing great work!
    You are somebody, a beloved son of God!!!
    Jesus loves you!!!
    Many Blessings,
    Kathy Simisky
    IVC Volunteer


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