at school is against the rules,
so when a spike-haired
first grader in need
butts up against your hip,
don’t you wrap your arms
round his skinny bones, don’t you
cup his skull in your palms,
smooth a knuckle up his baby cheek:
he’s got lice, he’s got AIDS;
you kiss him, you die,
or worse: late nights, he’ll hunch up small,
stare into some laugh show
and whisper what no half-pissed dad
cares to hear from his wife’s
kid at the end of a long day
of nothing, when sleep
is the only country,
anywhere else, terror:
a father you’ve marked
before, slouching into parent night,
two hands trembling
along his thighs like birds
black eyes wary as a bull’s:
he blinks at the butcher,
you smile, you fold
your unheld hands;
what roils in his wake is the one
you won’t teach
to beg an answer from love.
Leo’s eleven, but he still can’t write “Leo.”
He throws a pencil at me.
“You write the poem,” he says.
He frowns and leans back in his chair
and shuts his eyes.
In the flat autumn light, his glasses
shed a watery glow. His freckles tremble.
Leo always likes to keep me waiting.
After a minute he growls,
“Big heifers in the corn again,
And them horses
After a minute he snarls,
“Coyote snitched the rawhide.
Grab a gun and blast him,
Then skin him up.”
Twenty other kids breathe hard,
scribble, and erase. Danyell chews
on the end of a pen and sighs gustily.
“Can I make this up?” she complains.
Leo slouches and crosses his arms
over his bony ribs. He opens his eyes
and smiles in a superior manner.
In his view, imagination sucks.
What matters in a poem
is you tell it like it happened
but you leave out the crap.
He jerks his chin up,
looks me over, slitty-eyed. He says,
“I do something I do it right!”
When that bell screams,
he’s number one out the door.