School | Poem by Daniel J. Langton

It’s the time of the year for school supplies, and here’s a poem by Daniel J. Langton about just one of the items you’ll need to pick up. Langton lives in San Francisco.

It’s the time of the year for school supplies, and here’s a poem by Daniel J. Langton about just one of the items you’ll need to pick up. Langton lives in San Francisco.




I was sent home the first day

with a note: Danny needs a ruler.

My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.

School is for rules, countries need rulers,

graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.


It had metrics one side, inches the other.

You could see where it started

and why it stopped, a foot along,

how it ruled the flighty pen,

which petered out sideways when you dreamt.


I could have learned a lot,

understood latitude, or the border with Canada,

so stern compared to the South

and its unruly river with two names.

But that first day, meandering home, I dropped it.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Daniel J. Langton, whose most recent book of poems, During Our Walks, is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. Poem reprinted from New Letters, Vol. 77, nos. 3&4, by permission of Daniel J. Langton and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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