Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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The new kid is risking it all telling us a dream that he had,
and he’s standing up too, straight as an arrow,
like a real Norman Rockwell, next to his desk,
because he doesn’t know yet that we don’t do that here,
and we’re certainly not going to be the ones to tell him,
we being a tough audience and all, so quick to judge by today’s lowly standards.
And when he tells us it’s about his mother and father,
both of whom are dead now, wouldn’t you know,
we start instantly squirming in our seats, gearing up for the torment,
trying not to let on that we’re hoping for one of those classroom belly-flop swan dives
when the teacher lets him go on for just a little too long.
And it’ll be sweet, and it’ll be pure,
when the kid starts to blubbering and making a royal fool of himself,
and maybe we won’t have the test on King Lear.
But this kid has eyes like he’s forty years old,
and Miss Ditmar is looking at him like he’s going to be a wounded poet someday,
and he really seems like he’s got something eating away at his insides,
his voice kind of icy and quiet as sticks, like he doesn’t give two shits who’s listening,
like he just can’t help it, like he was born to say it.
And he knows damned well that he’s taking a risk with us,
all of us half the time wishing our own parents were dead,
wishing we could kill them with our own bare hands,
like when they’re yelling at you from the upstairs bedroom that it’s past 1 a.m.,
and your friends are just hanging around by the pool like sticks, doing nothing,
and nobody’s swimming anyway, but they just can’t let it go
about some kid from Gloucester who died last week swimming unsupervised,
and we’re all thinking he probably had parents like ours, and he wanted to drown,
he chose to drown, he goddamned came out and asked to be drowned,
but they say it again about how he was unsupervised,
and the word just hangs there like the Japanese lanterns around the pool.
And you just want to go upstairs and beat them senseless in their beds with a cue stick
because you know your friends will be gone in a few minutes,
and you’ll be all by yourself, standing by the pool,
just you and the unsupervised moon.
And the kid is still talking about his parents and all, and the dream that he had,
and how he can see himself wearing these little seersucker shorts he used to like,
and he’s sitting at the table with his feet not touching the floor,
like in those fifties sitcoms, like Father Knows Best,
and it’s formal and all, a real family dinner,
his mother wearing something that looks like a prom dress,
his father all stern at the head of the table, like Jesus at the Last Supper,
only not like da Vinci, all peaceful or something,
but mad this time because he’s getting stuck with the check,
and because Judas is drinking like a bastard,
but he never says a word, and it’s like he can’t speak, like it’s eating him up.
And the kid knows somehow that in his dream he gets to ask his father one question
that he absolutely has to answer, like it’s required, like it’s a law or something,
and the kid is ready for him this time, got his question all figured,
and it’s a good one too, you can tell.
So now he knows he’s really got us listening,
and he starts laying it on about the apartment and all, how it’s not there anymore,
how it was in East Hartford, Connecticut, before the fire, before the Gulf War,
and his father was working at a hotel somewhere as a short-order cook,
and he was good at it too so they gave him a room up over the kitchen so he wouldn’t quit,
the hotel in the middle of the city so the sirens and police cars were going all night,
and it never got dark, this orange glow coming in from the streetlights like Japanese lanterns.
And it was normal those days to work half the night and come home exhausted,
and your wife was a waitress and so she came home too, her wet dollar bills from the bar,
her hair still beautiful, her mouth like a dream,
and both of you were beaten, barely in your twenties, dead to the beautiful world,
and you slept with your wife exhausted beside you,
your kid standing up all alone in the corner, in a crib, wide awake, unsupervised,
his face like the moon with his forty-year eyes.
And the question you ask is, as they cried in their sleep,
as they mumbled and moaned, as if their dreams were all broken,
as if they were always alone, the thing you want to know is:
Is this how it is? Is it always like this?
And your father looks through you with his forty-year eyes,
like Jesus or something, except he’s crying this time,
because he can’t help it, because he has to say it,
because in a dream it all has to be true like the moon,
and he says, yes it is, over and over,
yes it is, yes it is, yes it is.