Geoffrey Polk

Paper Airplanes

Southeast · Kinsman · Poetry

At Alexander Hamilton Junior High between Kinsman and Union
I kept getting sent out of class and didn’t know why.
I played by the rules like the rest of the assembly line
stamping out our passing grades, course by tedious course.
My face must have been an open book, diffident,
outraged when the teacher put a block of wood
under Deborah Glaefke’s chair to keep her legs
from swinging all day as she looked out the window—
of course she became a poet I later learned.
I watched her pale legs under her plaid skirt
as the math teacher explained how to get from point A to B
but I hadn’t started at A and I didn’t want their B.
I didn’t have words for what I wanted.

They sent me to the book room, narrow and cramped,
textbooks piled to the ceiling in double-helix stacks
on the verge of falling. My duties undefined, I sat guardian
over the unwanted texts, paging through the stamped
checkout boxes, tripping over names from the past,
Stephen Shipley and Susan Schbrowski. I read randomly,
like a dust filter we should have all been issued
going from peeling rental to peeling schoolhouse
but instead of lead I caught stray facts and fiction
as they floated and drifted in the stifling air over the musty books—
Newton and dinosaurs, T. S. Eliot and suffragettes.

The deeply grained split door scraped open behind me
as a codefendant was shepherded into the room.
We looked at each other awkwardly as I tried
to explain our function, embarrassed to say we had none,
but soon I’d enlist him in an airplane throwing contest.
I had jury-rigged a fragile stairway up the books
and across shelves to a small high window.
From our perch, hunched between sill and shelf
we folded planes from yellowed mimeographs
and launched them from our third-floor height.
They sailed gloriously through the Indian summer wind
landing on roofs and cars like freak snow
and on the sidewalk where I hoped someone
from the other side of where we were
would pick them up, look up at the brick walls and see
in the paper planes a sign, a desire to escape, a chance.

Geoffrey Polk

Geoffrey Polk grew up in Cleveland, where he writes, plays jazz saxophone and clarinet, and teaches literature and composition at Lorain County Community College. He attended Berklee College of Music and received an MA in creative writing from Cleveland State University. He was editor of the literary magazine Whiskey Island. His poems and fiction have appeared in Cobalt Review, Brilliant Corners, Voices of Cleveland, Context South, Black River Review, and elsewhere. Nonfiction publications include articles and reviews on literature and music as well as interviews with David Foster Wallace, Ken Kesey, Studs Terkel, and others.


Neighborhood Voices is a city-wide creative writing project designed by Literary Cleveland and the Cleveland Public Library to engage writers across Cleveland, allowing residents to connect with neighbors, share stories of their community, and draft new writing about what makes their neighborhood unique.


Cleveland Public Library
325 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44114

Project Created By Literary Cleveland

Literary Cleveland is a nonprofit organization and creative writing center that empowers people to explore other voices and discover their own. Through an expanding roster of multi-level classes, workshops and events, Literary Cleveland assists writers and readers at all stages of development, promotes new and existing literature of the highest quality, and advances Northeast Ohio as a vital center of diverse voices and visions.

Project Presented with Support By the Cleveland Public Library

Founded in 1869, Cleveland Public Library serves the residents of Cleveland through its network of 27 neighborhood branches, the Main Library downtown, Public Administration Library at City Hall, homebound delivery services, and mobile services to daycare and senior centers. From a collection of 10.5 million items, the Library lends over 5 million items a year to its 330,000 registered borrowers and to 43 other CLEVNET-member libraries in 12 counties across Northeast Ohio. Cleveland Public Library is home to the Ohio Center for the Book and the Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, serving all 88 counties in the state of Ohio. For more information, visit