You hear them call your name.
In your head their voice is stern, a teacher,
Waiting to pounce on a single, uncertain mistake.
But all they do is call—seeking, more than demanding. An assurance you try to make.
Your shaking impatient foot stops moving, your sweaty palms turn cold.
Eager to complete it all, to finish what you started, to show that you know.
To say loudly, “I’m here.”
And yet you’re afraid to respond. A feeble
“I’m here”, becoming a mere movement of your lips. Soundless.
Your teacher once snapped at you, mouth quivering, breaking a chalk in a clenched hand.
“Five times twelve is?”
Her staring eyes recede into a blur; your classmates become a wall of soft sniggers,
Closing into your silence.
Sixty, sixty, the voice in your head insists.
“Fifty-five?” you stutter, questioning. Sixty. The voice in your head trails away,
lost in the unidentifiable images and sounds in your head.
Loud laughter. Eyes darting, heat rising, your colour changes.
When mistakes are not left as mistakes,
When they throw you off balance instead.
All you do is freeze all over, wishing,
For it all to pass, your head bent,
They call your name again,
You look up.
You feel a nudge on your side
“Go,” a voice beside you says, close but distant. Forceful.
Apologetically you nod, moving slowly,
Like feet stuck in wet mud.
Up there you fidget, a few expectant eyes feel like a thousand
Waiting for that one mistake, for revelations you would not make otherwise, when the sniggers can come closing in.
Words are not words but paper planes, flying light, with no direction.
You let your hair fall on your face,
They must not see your fear; you set your eyes on the crack on the wall before you.
Swallow, you feel like water,
Not free and flowing, but in a bottle.
“You’re not good enough to be up here,” you think, heat rising in your face. Dismissive, uncertain.
And you begin your first complete slam poem.