Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 2
In the back bedroom,
door closed and locked,
we gathered in a circle
and dared each other to go first.
Blue striped curtains stirred
and winter's pale light sneaked
across the cracked linoleum.
Pat Roberts knew the rules,
instructed us how to take
ten deep fast breaths then blow
hard on two fingers stuffed
into our tight shut mouths.
Jim Matheny volunteered,
and we watched his face twist
into a mask, cheeks stretched
taut and bulging. We saw
his eyelids close, his wiry
body sink into a heap,
We wondered if he really
had passed out -- if he'd revive,
rise up and walk again,
if there'd be something more
to set this day apart.
In an earlier time we might
have gathered in the same
tight circle around a victim,
waiting for a sign:
the sun's return, a cure,
the ripening of corn,
a message from the gods.
I know the goldfish swim unseen
beneath the icy surface of the pond.
On Summer mornings I stand motionless
and stare, being careful not to cast
my shadow on the pool, conjuring them
toward light the way I try to tug a dream
to life as it floats upward out of night.
I want to see dim formless beings rise,
emerge and take on distinct golden shapes,
then gleam and dart like underwater fireflies
before blurring into muffled dark.
And I recall as a small child my own slow
rising toward light when some blind urge
awakened to a sudden sight of snowflakes
through a window, whirling from a distant
silver pool of sky. I sat behind the glass
tracing separate flakes as each one
etched its downward fall toward earth.
Miss Thompson looms over my desk,
straight-backed like the ruler she wields,
her metallic hair set in unyielding
rolls. She blocks sunlight prying
through the window from the cinder
covered playground. Maybe she sees
coal dirt beneath my nails, smudged knees,
but like the others in the class
I raise my hand at morning drill:
Did you brush your teeth? Take
a bath? Clean your fingernails?
I pull my skirt over my knees
skinned and scarred with cinders.
I clump my hands in fists as she
stands staring at my desk, stiff
and towering like that statue
on the cover of our history book.
With my Ticonderoga pencil
I wrote "bird" on my desk
so on the spelling test I wouldn't
write "brid" again. Now she'll never
leave like that red-winged devil
in my catechism book,
lurking behind the little girl
whose heart is black with mortal sin.
Miss Thompson never smiles
though she must see how smart I am.
© Kathleen Corcoran