Kindergarteners beautiful and dumb
beam on risers to sing the goofy words
their teacher drilled ad nauseam all week.
She stands before them now, her soundless mouth
stretching every syllable. No one holds
hand-cut cardboard muskets as I once did,
dressed in pilgrim black, lost in floodlight glare,
comforted that my flat and off-beat notes
were drowned by girls whose headdress feathers waved
at mothers blurred behind their Polaroids
that flashed and whirred before they spit out squares
of celluloid that froze our chubby grins.
I waited for my ride with yawning nuns
whose habits snapped the wind, fluttery
and aloof as crows, who lorded over me,
their final zealot on the sidewalk’s edge
as I perfected the art of double knots
and roping frothy spit down drainage grates.
When no one came I shot November sky,
the playground swings and pregnant clouds
gone gray, and then, at last, the paneling
on my grandmother’s Buick wagon.
But here, no capotain or leather fringe
demarcates the stage’s tribes. A rainbow owl
arrays the brown bag shirt my son adjusts
nervously beside his friends. Raised cell phones
record our grown-up voices belting out
the gobble-gobble song we’ve joined in late
before frantically we all press pause.
Our ovation cocoons us in applause.
Adam Tavel’s third poetry collection, Catafalque, recently won the 2017 Richard Wilbur Award and is forthcoming with the University of Evansville Press. He is also the author of The Fawn Abyss (Salmon Poetry, 2017) and Plash & Levitation (University of Alaska Press, 2015), winner of the Permafrost Book Prize in Poetry. You can find him online at http://adamtavel.com/.