Friday, November 26, 2010

The High School Class Portrait as One Face

For Brenda

Rain weighs on windows like a needle over scratches
on the shacks of Children's Island
where wild dogs once were free,
what later was a colony for lepers and for smallpox
and then a place to keep the ill mentally
before it was a place to hold the orphans
or a camp for sailing, archery and macrame
where totem poles greeted you at the pier,
their faces were all the parents that you had,
the ones that taught you how to handle rope
like holy braids and lean into a hartelee
and the ones that threw you off the rocks
to learn to float, the ones that made you take
the ferry boat to this outcast island
and the ones you swam here to escape from.
For none of them could you see beyond
what they said to what they really meant,
for none of them could you do more than automatically react.
One night each summer you'd stay overnight,
fall in love in front of campfires
enraptured with your own stories
and climb in other people's beds
- for once you felt alive
to be so distinct,
for once the shame was worth not knowing how you hurt
others as the awkward burned on awkward
and the fire felt so damn good.

So much they seemed to be at one time real:
the mirror of yourself was once clear glass
that showed the molting worms as angry butterflies
before the madness really was a choice.
Before there was the board, there were the pieces,
and you moved upon the squares as in a court
to play the damsel, jack or knight or squire or jester
in what was just your family written wide.
Some knew, some didn't know, some couldn't tell,
but as a group together all was seen:
the crashing of the boundaries, the suicidal tendencies,
the gatherings at three in smoke and beer
where all that never could be was what is:
the mastery, the wisdom, the compassion,
the icy breeze inside the swollen summer
that let you give away every gift that was ever taken
and showed you how to hold on to the one thing
that was real - how you felt - the great invisible
that landed on the dance floors, the gridirons and auditoriums,
the vice-principal's offices and the smoker's corridors
with a colossal splat and an unfathomable bounce.

You drew the outlines from cartoons, made words escape their tunes,
walked movies through the streets until the trees no longer
haunted you. You tried to kill the passion they call youth
by throwing all your clothes into the fire
and seeing in the flames - the never-ending flames
the shapings of some dream
not handed down with sunscreen and the life vests;
the molting had become you, desires would never rest,
you could go forth and dance upon the clearing
as if that tiny separate thing could ever matter,
as if through it all we weren't together, in the fire,
the perfect abnegation, the zeroed-out equation,
the freedom-seeking, heat-collective missile
orphaned for one glorious moment, on the beach
in bodies doused in the ever-swirling black,
wet in tuxes and prom dresses, huddled in circles
like chandeliers of driftwood bonfires
that melted in the sky
before the beach stone morning light hit shore
to lull us all to sleep.