The Rules of Attention: A poem by Airea D. Matthews (MPA ’07)

December 10, 2023
Philadelphia Poet Laureate and educator Airea D. Matthews (MPA ’07) returned to the Ford School this fall to discuss her memoir-in-verse with writing instructor Molly Spencer at an event hosted by the Center for Racial Justice. The following day, she led a special writing workshop for Ford School students.

The Rules of Attention

By Airea D. Matthews

Sunlight barges through our windows, lands across
my cheek, forceful as a slap. I place my morning
news down, sorrowed by some other mother’s loss,
some other mother’s loves not returning home
how they left. Wrong place, wrong minute, wrong

                       color, wrong body. As if any of those things signify. I tell my sons
the problem with time is the separate rules for observing it, which is not to say
every moment doesn’t have meaning, which is to say every second is a lesson.
What matters is knowing the distance between

                        a wink and a blink, what harms and what suggests harm, a vari-
     ance measured in milliseconds. Knowing, too, if, at any given instant, you
     are seen through a smudged lens as innocuous object

    or armament
fantasy beheld
     or flesh
     to be torn asunder.


Excerpted from BREAD AND CIRCUS by Airea D. Matthews. Copyright © 2023 by Airea D. Matthews. Reprinted with permission from Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


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