Classmate

I was at the beach talking with someone else
when he twisted my arm till I heard a crack.

That was real.  But last night it was a dream:
I’m at my locker when he slams my shoulder hard.

Clatter of metal, secretary passing in spike heels
Strange that I remember this,

and how for revenge I wished him a used car lot
with gangsters shaking him down.

He wore chinos and loafers, button-down shirts,
the style of the day.  Skinny belts, buckle to the side.

His lips were so finely grooved it startled me
when we first kissed that spring behind the gym.

Was anyone else there the October night he said,
“Go steady with me again, or I’ll hurt you”?

So ridiculous, so long ago, even then I wasn’t tempted,
though for weeks I watched him work the crowd,

until in the cafeteria friends turned me away
and would not speak, turned their heads when I spoke.

English, Algebra, always someone groaned
when I entered a classroom.

He must have found a way out of Vietnam.
College?  Perhaps not four years.

He probably married his last high school girlfriend,
had children, and who knows?did sell cars.

Would he have outgrown the bully’s pleasures,
or just learned more subtle moves?

No doubt his death was from illness, not foul play.
But lingering or sudden, I have no clue.

News came by accident, a casual acquaintance.
So, after all these years–

Farewell my teenage nemesis, first lesson in shadows,
in my own darkness. For that I can thank you.

If we ever passed later on a street I didn’t notice.
Still, I confess disappointment, then a shiver

of something else, when I googled your name
and found nothing.

 

 

Betsy Sholl is the author of eight books, most recently Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin), which won the 2015 Maine Literary Award for poetry.  Other books include Late Psalm, Don’t Explain (winner of the Felix Pollak Prize) and The Red Line (winner of the AWP Prize in Poetry).  She is a founding member of Alice James Books, and served as Poet Laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.  Other awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and two Maine Individual Artists Grants.  Recent work has appeared in Brilliant Corners, Image, Field, Numero Cinq, Upstreet, Poet Lore, Plume.  She teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in Portland, Maine.

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