Riot in the Local High School, circa 1975
Sandra, Martha, & Maryellen
Sandra turns the hallway’s corner, a mass of black
at the other end: teenage girls stampede,
a storm of anger approaching. Sandra makes it
to an open doorway, swiftly slams the burly classroom door.
Her white hands shake against the lock.
She peers through the door’s small window,
rage hits Maryellen’s white flesh through black turtleneck.
In the hallway young, black women pull Maryellen’s
long hair from roots fine, light strands stick to black shirt ribbing,
static shock over piping sewn with white thread.
Sandra watches black schoolgirls swarm
Maryellen’s thin waist, big boobs, slender legs.
Big, young breasts pound beneath fabric,
Maryellen’s hands fight strong fists she cannot block.
Screaming, her defense falters against bold warriors:
Sandra and Martha’s friends who shared a joint the day before,
on the fire escape behind the cafeteria, discretely passing a small,
white cigarette among quick, waving arms that hurl gray smoke into oblivion.
Martha is black, Sandra’s best friend, like sisters
since first grade. That morning she asks Sandra to stay home.
Martha’s voice firm through the telephone receiver, “Sandy, word is
not a good scene at school today; don’t go, okay? Or cut out before third period.”
Maryellen bobs amid flailing hands, hard elbows.
Sandra reacts like fire, like a back draft, forcing
through door into hallway; Maryellen sees escape
for the first time since she left the girls’ room.
Sandra grabs Maryellen’s sleeve, hurls her through the doorway
as the sleeve catches the turquoise stone of Sandra’s bracelet.
In the classroom door shuts, locks behind both white girls.
Black girls in the hallway bounce from door to wall,
knees jam into stomachs, centrifugal force resumes.
Militants on course to the cafeteria. Days before
lunch is served colorblind, Martha shared fries
with Sandra, they lit up together in the third-floor bathroom.
Stay home, my ass, Sandra thinks, helping Maryellen
up from the classroom floor vague ruins of a girl.
They squeeze out the first-floor window,
softly hit the grass below.
Yesterday, sound of
toilet flush through the metal
of my window screen,
the late December’s snow
trucks harrow animal death lines
along the road, scattered in ½ mile stretches.
“Eva,” my mother calls.
“Evanthia!” she shouts,
as I vomit into the undertow of toilet water.
I don’t answer, ready to puke again, the river to the east of the window frozen solid; milky craters transform the water’s surface. Hudson River shoreline lined with military personnel shoveling pink snow into silence. I hear my family’s worried calls, Evanthia?” My young son yells, “Mommy!”
projectile vomit near miss
my porcelain post
explosion in the river hit.
Two months before we drove to the Pepsi Arena, Albany, NY. Taconic State Parkway, curves through valleys. “Ah….” October’s passing colors, clear road with deer as still as air along the road’s edges. We slow, in case they dart. Andrew (Andy), lover, love, adjusts the radio, broadcasts from the city, warnings I want to ignore. I switch the station, but Andy’s hands grip the steering wheel, pressing it hard enough to bust. “Eva! We need to listen to what’s going on,” he says, readjusting the radio. The drugs inside me fester; I’m on the other side of Andy’s demand, my eyes closed, my mind moving through the black swirls of the inside of my body. I am responsible for no one in this movement.
The other morning,
drops of saline down my nose
help the shakes—
bitter, wonderful memory
hits the back of my throat:
the numbing calm of snow
is the longing for peace the same?
Today my mother shouts my name, jarring a new warrior. “Eva,” she says. “It’s still snowing! A blizzard in the valley! God has said ‘No more…no more war’.” I want to believe her, but my stomach swells as I hear the trucks outside barrel toward the river’s edge. I want to believe my body will crystallize, flake into the way it was when I was a little girl.
I stand at the window
fogged over with sweat,
remembering when the soldiers
said I was beautiful
on the outside—
but inside I need
white, flush it through me,
so my war will end.
Five days ago, roads were closed to civilians. Television broadcasts warned us to stock up on food, water, batteries, blankets; I’m not sure what else. I learned all this listening to my father and his friend Larry talk as they shoveled. Larry, the neighbor who owns the house next to ours along the river, who told us yesterday that animals were dropping dead along the road. “Something else is going on,” he said. “We don’t know what, but something’s killing them.”
Five days ago
I saw Andy for the last time,
I saw the white that brought us together
for the last time,
I watched it snow inside my skin
for the last time.
Five days ago it began to snow hard
along the Hudson River.
The army needed to get down the river,
barge cutting ice wasn’t enough.
Yesterday the army blew it up,
ripped the river apart,
fish blown from the water,
ice chunks decapitating winter birds
in flight, blood along the shore.
Today my son sits on the rug in front of the living room fireplace; he plays war with his action figures, lines up the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” I watch his quick hands dart through the air, hear his girlish voice attempt to imitate the soldiers’ demands to “Press on!” Today he controls the drama he creates; he is safe and warm inside my parents’ home. Today I am safe and warm in the pain of doing without, the pleasure of loving my son. I look into my son’s stare as his eyes turn from his toys, fix on a tiny spider airborne, its transparent web guiding it to lower ground away from the scorch of the fire. It tackles its own war not knowing the odds of its outcome.
I understand this,
descend from the flames
in my head, praying
for the snow’s fierce accumulation.
Today my mother prays for peace,
my father shovels for peace,
my son creates peace along the hearth of the fireplace.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there to stop you.
As you try to tell me what you did:
the small, wooden toddler chair you’ve had your seventeen years,
I picture it—a light wood painted baby blue, juice stains on the seat,
fourteen-year-old spaghetti sauce caked on two of the five
vertical wooden spindles that intersect a scuffed horizontal edge,
your fingerprints all over it.
I conjure my own images: the belt you borrowed from your lover’s closet—
a short, black leather strap, fitting only her tiny waist,
handmade holes added beyond the standard row of openings,
long enough to slip around your neck.
The old, thin metal pipe protruding from the basement ceiling,
inside it, a dark, corroded path for murky laundry water to expel
into the old drywell beneath the house you shared with her.
You call her “The Great Depression.” You almost entered
her history, the place where she collects new male bodies
of withered confidence.
What must have gone through your mind?
Buckle the belt in the farthest hole, I can’t take it anymore.
Stand one foot on the seat, the other on the chair’s top edge, My mother will cry.
Deep breath (natural because you thought you’d hold your breath
before your neck snapped), God, please understand.
I imagine your thoughts but don’t ask to hear them from you.
You tell me your head must have hit the chair.
I envision your right temple accosting those baby blue spindles
on its way to the concrete floor.
Laughing, you say, “I woke up like I was dreaming.”
I picture the broken pipe dangling above your nose,
don’t ask you for details.
Whenever you recollect that time, my chest caves in,
lungs crushed by all the possibilities,
I’m sorry I can’t listen to the particulars.
I had an abortion months after giving birth to my first child, his father a man who reminded me
of young Robert Redford—blond hair, sharp yet precisioned nose, blue eyes, rugged gestures of
a movie star gangster. He was an unfaithful, abusive excuse for a husband. I hated that scuffed
tan paneling in our first apartment, a popular ‘80s wall covering. It lined every vertical inch.
Vertical inches are easy to see with wet eyes. Moisture clarifies vision.
I headed down the hallway, that husband caught me off guard, dreaded paneling. Weak knees
not because of sex. No sex that day. Because of the ordeal before: strangers, paperwork, waiting
room, pamphlets—methods of birth control, diaphragm included. I thought I used my diaphragm
correctly. Not mine really, the diaphragm—why should I call it mine, possession still nine-
tenths of the law? What good did it do? Possess it right, use it right! Can’t have other children
with scum who spits spat spits at his mother just because. Just because what an asshole he
felt like it. But his sperm finagled its way into my body. Quietly, no ecstasy. Quietly, oh God, I
tried to make my way into our bedroom, walls screaming for paint, Cover the fake pine!
I didn’t see it—his hand—it slammed my left temple. The paneling opened at each 1/8-inch
seam. Took me in. I felt its splinters rip me, right side first. It wanted me as badly as excuses—
husband full of excuses, infidelity, hurtfulness. Why do they always want your body?
I was a child again, watching Saturday morning cartoon animals take their beatings. I looked
for the tiny, white spinning ring of stars that hovered next to illustrated heads. I found the ring.
Saw the stars. Realized animators were true visionaries, made my life surreal when needed.
Dreaded, fucking paneling. I promised myself I would learn karate, find a new
home in the spring.