Excerpt #98, Rocking-Chair Moon

Prom Date
—Carly

You come to me with your rented tie
dangling from your hand,
a harried, half-annoyed expression
on your face,
and a cell phone pressed to your ear,
listening to the girl’s
last-minute instructions, no doubt,
concerning the adjustments
to the modifications
to the alterations
to the revised plans for senior prom night.

You pocket the phone, finally,
and ask for help,
politely but urgently,
with the puzzle of the tie,
remembering how I used to help Dad with his,
so I interrupt my own prom-night preparations
—my long break turned out to be not so long
—and together we stand in front of
the bathroom mirror and I demonstrate
how to measure and loop and knot and tighten
and adjust until it’s just right,
beyond improvement, and I wonder if
you have the elusive pieces of the procedure
locked in now,
if next time you’ll manage all on your own,
without the vast, accumulated wisdom
of your younger but sometimes useful sister,
and a big part of me
hopes your taxed memory fails you.

The concern fades from your face,
but it’s there long enough
to remind me of another tie, another time,
another occasion—
Uncle Mike’s wedding, and my official job—
flower girl—
and yours—ring bearer—
and your last-minute long face
as Grandpa helped you
get dressed in your miniature tuxedo,

and you realized that a tie was required,
and Grandpa’s explanations
that it wouldn’t hurt,
that it wouldn’t be for long,
didn’t comfort you,
and when he finally asked you
why wearing the tie was such
a problem,
you explained to him in the most logical way:

Someone might think I’m a dad.

I feel myself smiling at the memory
as we head for the front door,
And with a playful pickpocket move
you slip the watch from Grandpa’s
wrist and onto yours, and it looks just right
with the fancy gold-plated stays
of your French cuff, and he tells you it’s
yours until midnight,
when it turns into an hourglass, and
you give him a polite, corny-joke smile
and Mom a quick kiss
and glance at your wrist,
and I don’t expect a smile or a kiss
but you give me both anyway.

From the front door we watch you
carefully lay your coat
and the precious corsage on the back seat
and get behind the wheel
of your freshly-washed carriage.
You slip on your sunglasses
against the gray light of the evening
and give us a little nod and ease away
from the curb, looking
sophisticated, mature, adult.

Almost like a dad.

 

Challenged
—Carly

I hurry out of the girls’ bathroom
with my hair just right at last
and head down the crowded corridor
one final time on my way to the buses—
not smelly, yellow dinosaurs
but sleek graduation charters
with air conditioning, eager, gaping entries,
big tinted windows, headphones,
reclining make-out seats—
and I spot a girl who has smiled warmly at me
from time to time over our four years here
(except for the months she was gone),
even the times she noticed me considering her
—staring—as she tried to fade quietly
into the wall
at the back of our sophomore classroom,
shyly marking time,
and I realize with regret
that I can barely recall her name
(Megan, I’m almost sure).

Unless you count a rare and robotic Hi,
I’ve never spoken to her.

People say she has a kid at home now,
but that’s not the reason for my cold shoulder,
I know it isn’t.

I have an appointment with the buses, though,
and I continue on, helloing and hugging
my way through clusters of my fellow seniors,
and as I cruise past the library,
I look in the window at Mrs. Keller’s
poster display of often-banned and
challenged authors, and I stop and take time
to read a few names of old acquaintances
afflicted with the imagination and talent
to make their ideas and stories and characters
leap from a piece of paper and into a mind,
open or not—

Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier,
Roald Dahl, Toni Morrison, Philip Pullman,
Shel Silverstein, S.E. Hinton, J.K. Rowling,
J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Lois Lowry,
Jean Craighead George, Maurice Sendak,
Walter Dean Myers, Madeleine L’Engle,
Katherine Paterson, Mark Twain,
John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou,
Charles Darwin, Shakespeare.

Shakespeare?

Later, I murmur, and reluctantly
leave them behind, passing more kids—
preps, jocks, popular princesses,
honors junkies, band nerds, druggies,
skaters, gangsters, goths, granolas,
right wing-nutters, rockers, punks,
cowboys, soldiers of Jesus,
unaffiliated whatevers–
who aren’t in my closest circle of friends,
maybe, but I know their names,
I know them, and for four years we got
the chance to brush elbows,
wonder at our differences,
recognize our similarities, share our lives.

What would I have missed—
good, bad, unexpected, serendipitous,
if I hadn’t?

And I think again of those book characters,
wondering how much smaller, poorer,
older, I would have been if I hadn’t
embraced them, grappled with them,
lived with them for a year and more,
laughed, cried, gotten so pissed off
I wanted to revise, rewrite,
play God, send a ten-page, hundred-question
letter to the author, and
suddenly I realize that I won’t have to
abandon those characters, ever,
and these characters, quite yet.

I turn and look back,
searching for a certain face,
a certain uncertain smile,
a flash of ebony hair on a head angled
a certain way, and I locate her, alone,
emptying a locker halfway up the hallway,
and I start back, moving against the crowd
like a salmon slipping upstream
to accomplish important, unfinished business.

The buses can wait.

The sleek, impatient buses can wait.

On to Bigger Things
—Ben

That’s me behind the curtain,
that’s me shuffling forward,
seventh or eighth in line,
playing with the soft, electric drift
of Katie Dupree’s chestnut hair
where it falls from the back of her silly cap,
imagining my lips on the downy skin
of her neck,
making her turn and smile at me,
making me question
why I never asked her out.
Thirteen years we’ve been linked
alphabetically,
positioned and photographed and lined up
and marched together,
and I just now noticed how green
and alive her eyes are?
Is it too late,
now that we’re moving on to Mrs. Tuttle’s
boundless world of unfettered choices?

That’s me, fifth now,
and the curtain parts at the sound of
a new name, and someone—
a tall guy with hoop earrings—
escapes through the opening and out,
into the light, onto the stage,
and some nonconformist friend or sibling
in the crowd sets off an air horn,
momentarily overwhelming
Mrs. Tuttle’s nasal library voice,
and she pauses, annoyed,
and lets the dead air
speak for her like skunk exhaust
before she trudges on.

That’s me, checking out Katie—
it’s just the two of us now,
never mind Carly and the long line
of other come-latelies trailing behind us—
and an illogical part of me is afraid
that once Katie disappears through the curtain
I’ll never see her again, and for once
I pray for Mrs. Tuttle to take her time
while I adjust my pretend-scholar cap
and smooth my crown-prince gown
and tug at my stiff collar—Grandpa’s idea—
and straighten my tie—Mom’s—
and admire my size fifteen thrift store shoes—
untied.

That’s me, listening to Mrs. Tuttle’s sour,
serrated voice butcher Katie’s sweet,
smooth name.
That’s me, watching Katie turn to me
and take my hand and tug me through
the fissure in the curtain, smiling that smile
with those lively eyes
the color of rain-glazed fir needles,
and we take the stage as an instant couple,
me returning Mrs. Tuttle’s surprised stare,
then blinking out into the murmuring crowd,
Katie squeezing my hand,
leaving me behind for a moment and
gliding forward to remind the principal
and teachers and distinguished guests
and crowd why she’s here.

That’s me, standing alone for seconds
that seem like hours while Katie
shakes Mrs. Tuttle’s hand and accepts
her diploma and steps away from the podium,
out of the spotlight, to wait for me.

That’s me, that’s my name, and I float
toward Mrs. Tuttle’s frozen smile
and pump her limp hand and when I’m sure
I have that piece of paper in my fist
I shed my giant shoes and leap
so everyone can see my bare feet
and as the crowd cheers
I imagine Carly and Mom and Grandpa
cheering, too,
and I bow deeply and reach for Katie’s hand
and together we walk off
the stage and on to our boundless worlds.

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