One time your eye looked eggplant. Nothing was said,
but by instinct you knew how a decent boy should put such a matter
in public: how he (how stupid, how clumsy) had stumbled
into that door. And if another time you couldn’t capture
the flag or play tag with the others, you knew them beneath contempt,
beneath you, if only you’d “apply yourself,”
God damn it. Why condescend then to tell them why you limped,
her errant kick to the meat of your thigh? Besides, you’d earned it --
no? –the goose-egg under your trousers.
On the other hand, the open handed
blows left scarce a mark, applied to your head or neck
as you bent– whatever she thought,
applying yourself– to your desk,
to a book of numbers that just wouldn’t listen to reason,
at least not to your dumb version. They’d at most distract,
those slaps, deficient as they seemed in the fiercer passion
that made you what you were you are
you were you are. At times you feel so tired,
as you did come afternoon, though you’d fetch from somewhere
strength to will yourself up that same flight of steps,
for all the whiteness of her knuckles where the hands
clamped the shuddering rail at the top, the faraway top,
because you knew, God damn it,
you somehow knew
that with application one day at last you’d climb it,
you’d climb it properly for once, and then -- I love you.
She’d come right out and say it.
Sydney Lea was the Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-15).Histhirteenth collection of poetry is Here (Four Way Books, 2019).