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Ode to a Coffee Mug from Slater Mill in Pawtucket

By: Shai Afsai

Several years ago
working as a middle school librarian
I took a group of students
on a field trip to Slater Mill
in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

I purchased a coffee mug at the gift shop
and upon our return
presented it
on behalf of the students
to the school’s principal.

This was before I realized
what a bully the man was —
how he worked to intimidate veteran teachers
and even shoved a young woman
new to the profession.
Eventually his conduct was undeniable.

No one did anything to fight back —
nothing at all —
but my friend James and I said to each other:
We can get him removed.

And though it took work
we did.

Before the principal
was barred
from the school building
I reclaimed the Slater Mill mug.
The morning after he was barred
I made coffee
and used it.

And as I sipped, I thought:
So this is what it feels like
to drink broth
from the skull
of a defeated foe.

If you ask me to describe the mug
I can’t say much more than that it was white,
but I remember how sweet
the bitter black coffee tasted.

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