For the poem starts precisely with an ambiguous line break:
The teacher walks into class empty
The next line begins "handed". Somebody "has stolen her/poetry textbook" (another ambiguous line break, adding a frisson of suspense), but the line stands by itself as a unit of meaning. The teacher comes into class empty. It feels like it could be a spiritual or an existential condition.
But the theft quickly becomes a joke. The security guard wonders why anybody would steal poetry. And then the situation becomes "a teachable moment," as they say. We get a variety of guesses and speculation that reflect the perspectives of those who make them—a reed-thin student who waits tables at a nude bar, the housewife whose husband has left her, the former gang member, the lady who shops at Bloomingdale's, a religious student.
And by the end of the poem the teacher begins to feel whole again, to have recovered her equilibrium. The classmates have come together. They "open their books/and share their poems with her."
Unspoken but hovering over the whole poem is the question, what is the value of poetry? This poem is an answer. —Charles Rammelkamp