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Posts Tagged ‘junior high’

Athlete

 

 

 

Fully commit your weight to one foot.

Every skate skier knows this. To trust

the ski. To trust the snow. To trust the inner

balancer that will not let us fall.

 

The commitment allows us to glide,

to fly, to find bright wings inside our weight.

 

And sometimes we fall.

 

And though it’s been years since I had to change

into the blue gym shorts and white shirt,

sometimes when I fall I remember all my fallings,

and a sharp voice returns, You can’t do this,

it says. It dredges up decades

of shame, of dropping the ball, missing

the hit, not making the catch, letting down

the team. You’re no good, says the voice

that recalls what it’s like to be the last one

picked in junior high p.e., how I stared

at the floor, at the far away ceiling.

 

You’re weak, says the voice, but here

amongst the aspen and spruce,

there is no one to let down, but me,

so I untangle the skis and the poles

and rise and breathe and fully commit

my weight to one foot. And glide.

And fly. Become wing. First one foot.

And then the other.

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It was my biology teacher who taught me

to let things go. It was true, I didn’t like him,

no one did. And that is why, when he left

his coffee cup on our table and we

were dissecting rabbits, Kathy looked

at me with a small pink part

in her hands, then eyed his cup.

My face lit up with the wickedness

of it, but I mouthed to her, No,

then watched as she dropped

the bit in. It didn’t float. There

are moments of our lives

we will forever revisit and wish

we had been more brave—

but I was scared to betray my friend,

scared to make waves. As it is,

we waited for him to pick up the cup,

and when he did, tried not to stare

as we wondered when he would

take a sip. Five minutes before

the bell rang, we rebagged

our strange accomplice and wiped

the table clean, then left the room

not seeing what happened next.

What happened next. I thought all night

about the effects of formaldehyde.

I thought he might die. I thought

of how I could have taken his cup

from his desk and quietly poured it out.

I thought of the twist in his heart

when he found bit at the bottom.

But the next day in biology, there

he was, corduroy coat and big brown glasses,

his awkward smile, his coffee cup.

He didn’t mention the crime.

I could barely look up. I had never felt

so small. And if he knew, he never said.

Sometimes the worst punishments

involve lack of consequence,

leaving us to live with our offenses.

And though I don’t recall his name,

I do recall his grace. I swore never again

to keep silent for such a prank.

I’d like to think that if we met, I’d tell him

about that day. And how sorry I am

I didn’t speak up. And how much I admired

the way he let it go. Could I? To this day,

what I remember most, the horror

blossoming in my stomach

the color of rabbit flesh. And

when I dared to look at him, his smile.

 

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Age of Expansion

 

 

 

Almost all I remember of seventh-grade history

is sitting in the back right corner

where I could lean my head against the wall

and look as if I were listening.

 

Those were the days when we still learned

that the Europeans had “discovered”

new worlds, and the indigenous people

were “found,” implying a subject/object relationship.

 

I never thought to question Ms. Estes about the terminology.

I only knew how desperately I wanted

to be discovered—preferably by Ron Didonato,

though he barely knew my name.

 

It was mid-semester when the note

arrived on my desk, passed along the back

of the room. Though the handwriting was messy,

the blue-ruled paper was folded neatly.

 

It was from the boy in the back left desk,

wondering if we could go together.

Circle yes or no. I certainly didn’t want

to be found by him, but I also

 

didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

Ms. Estes, up by the green chalkboard,

rambled on about European dominance

of a non-European world,

 

and meanwhile I prayed that an ocean

the size of the Atlantic might appear

in the middle of the classroom

so I could fall in or sail away before the bell.

 

It was only a few years later that history books

began to use the word “encounter” instead of “discover,”

which implies a reciprocity—though it doesn’t

change the fact that the Europeans

 

conquered the lands anyway and killed

and displaced those they encountered.

I remember I didn’t circle anything.

I remember I wrote something

 

about a boyfriend in a different town.

I remember the weight of the lie.

I don’t recall if I looked him in the eye

when I handed him back the note.

 

For the next five years, neither of us

ever mentioned again the encounter, perhaps

grateful for the ocean that rose between us

every time we met.

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Although I could likely have spelled and pronounced infelicitous,
could have used it in an essay or book report, I did not know, when reading
the names of the new student council members over the school’s
loudspeaker how to pronounce the last name of the boy
who had beaten me in my homeroom for the seat on the council.
Deutsch. And reading that long list of names, when I came to his,
I did not hesitate to pronounce it the way it looked on the page.
That’s when Cathy, reading beside me, burst into giggles, and I did, too,
and we had to turn off the PA system until we were sober enough
to read the menu for the day.

It was war. I never intended it that way.
Mispronouncing Gary’s name was a terrible,
sincere mistake. And it was war.

For the next two years, Gary called me names he knew I hated.
Rosie. Rosefairy. I’d like to think I didn’t mention
his last name.

He would come up behind me in Gifted and Talented,
and squeeze my skinny waist from behind. And always I would jump.
And curse him. And he’d laugh.

And then one day, just before summer, I said, “Gary, if you do that again,
I will throw you out that window.”

Gary did it again.

I did not mean to throw Gary out the window.

But the glass cracked and Gary cried and the whole room
stopped and stared. From somewhere outside of my body,
I stared, too, at the scrawny, mousy, over-achieving slip of a girl
who stood by the window, paralyzed in disbelief.

I think Mr. Foley laughed before he sent me to the vice-principal.
I think I cried. For days.

I paid for the window with my babysitting money.
Gary never squeezed my waist again.
I learned who I did not want to be.

It is funny now, when I tell my son. We giggle into his pillows,
and try not to wake his sister in the bed next to us.

I had forgotten Gary and his last name and the window until tonight
when I whispered to him in the dark before sleep,
“Sweetheart, It is going to be okay.
Everyone makes big mistakes sometimes. And we learn.”

“Even you, Mom?” he said, and I said, “Oh yes, there was one
particularly infelicitous day …”

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