The scene : School bus: guerrilla warfare in the high school jungle. Smalltown Vermont. Depression and McCarthy are only now fading together. A wife is still property, faggots are fair game. The farms are dying fast, the boys leaving; Viet Nam a patriotic war that’s coming home now.
The cast : Steve: class president, consummate athlete, whose intelligence and art are focused entirely on perfecting the highest level of sarcasm. Goes steady with the captain of cheerleading team (this is 1967, after all), but all the girls are wrapped around his so-to-speak finger. Debbie: neither part of the popular crowd, nor not. She is a being unto herself. Yet sits with him because Barbara Cheerleader has her own wheels, doesn’t need to ride the bus. Debbie is short-haired dark-eyed a mystery of silence to: Me: child of alcoholics, intelligent, viciously angry, silent, romantic poet; an athlete’s legs, farm-boy’s shoulders and between, a sensuality of girl’s curves. The rest: “underclassmen” (and further-underclass wo-men); silent, faceless: witnesses.
Debbie has just left Steve’s seat, moved to the front of the bus for her stop, next after mine. For the first time ever, I notice the swaying curve of hip as she brushes past. I rise to exit as she sits.
Steve calls out loud: “Hey Nick, Debbie thinks you’ve got a cute ass.” (remember the year, the place. we do not say these things. we do not.)
Debbie turns, caught inside a secret that has a dark shell and pink interior. Pearls that have just been cast. Cheeks burn a high quick rose. Eyes weld to mine, challenge, will not let go till I am past and off the bus.
Steve: laughs: coyote, hunting.
The rest: titter: nervous birds.
My cheeks are hot as hers. I hate myself, that he has touched me once again. I long to turn, and deliver over finger raised some withering repartee. My buttocks are hotter, rising to her gaze, longing to be parted by her—or by him, with her as silent eager witness. Jewelweed in late summer sun, opening to the hummingbird’s beak. How the nectar flows.
Steve, today: mildly successful salesman for an inconsequential company. Kitchen cabinets, perhaps. Still some tired charm, the anger gone, the edge dulled by liquor. Me: the poet remains; the athlete gone. Ass gone sadly flat, like an old tire. Debbie: lost, returned to the shadows she came out of. Her name, forgotten, is a fabrication for this account. I never spoke to her, not once, nor she to me.
yet her eyes dark fire that locked would not release
the glow that rose up the cheekbones they make of this
prose even now some thing that writhes that will not stay
within its lines.