“Bathtub Grading” by Jodie Liedke

02 December 2016 on Poetry   Tags: ,

-2010 tornado touches down in La Crosse, WI

In the dark with my
headlamp on, I grade essays
in my bathtub, while
the tornado gorges
two blocks over.
I call her Cleo,
‘cause she’s sweet
but deceptive, unpredictable.

While I cross out your title “Essay Two,”
write in the margin (“you can be more
creative than this”), Cleo swipes
the entire back wall of a 24-unit
apartment complex, leaving
it to look like a doll’s house.
Its insides exposed.

While I read your thesis, “How to
Get squirrels out of your house . . .”
Cleo peels squirrels from branches,
wraps them around telephone wires—
impeccable precision.
(She’s been practicing.)

While I laugh at your quirky tone,
Noting, “LOL,” “Ha! Ha!,” “This is great!”
a first-year college student beneath her bed curls
into a fetal position, thinking of her mother,
who told her to live on the first floor.
“Heat rises,” she had said.
Cleo scalps the roof.
The student doesn’t scream,
falls silent. She can’t compete
with Cleo’s whistling.

While I write “awkward,” then
cross it out and put “read aloud”
Because what does “awkward”
really mean anyway?
Cleo scoops up the dog along
with the dog’s house.

While I look up in the APA
manual to see that you cited Roger,
the exterminator correctly (you
forgot to put in the day of the interview),
Cleo gives the gift of flight
to a three-year-old.
His body rolls over, again and again
like he believes himself to be on fire.
But, it’s much worse.
Stop, drop, roll—into
the Mississippi River,
the boy floats head down, so no one
can identify him right away.

While I strike “In conclusion”
in your last paragraph—I make
A quick note: “You should know
this by now! It’s your last
paragraph, give your reader
some credit; they will figure out
this is the end,” Cleo recoils
into the sky, but not
before she looks into the
eyes of a 98-year-old woman who
has seen enough.


Jodie Liedke, a true Wisconsinite, having labored four summers in a mozzarella factory, received her Masters in Fine Arts from Wichita State University. Liedke is an assistant professor at Lakeland University where she teaches composition and creative writing. Her work appears in Fourteen Hills, Metal Scratches, Fractions, and Stoneboat. When not writing creatively, Liedke is an avid fly-fisherwoman. Connect with Liedke on Twitter @JodieLiedke.

Photo by Brian Dalke

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