the whole story
She says to
“Put the ball away”
Or she’ll take it from us,
Standing with her arms folded like she owns the world,
Or the lunchroom at least.
So we stop.
I slowly roll the ball to the kid with the glasses,
It’s his after all,
And feel the sweat forming on the back
Of my neck-
A disadvantage to playing soccer indoors.
She doesn’t leave quite yet,
The woman with the curly hair, built like a compacted cereal box. No,
She’d rather fold her dark arms and use her eyes
And sling arrows at us from across the room,
Making sure we don’t
Dare disobey her.
“How could you break my rules?
And I can’t help but wonder,
Where were you?
Where were you when the boy in science class said
He was glad Germany won that soccer game,
It was his roots pulling through, he said,
“Heil Hitle.r,” He said,
Giving a salute to his friends,
Their cackles ripping through the flesh of the room,
And then one of his buddies poked him in the ribs,
A smile emerging on his face like
A toy that you’ve
Shoved underwater, but is trying to float, he says
Shut up man,
There’s a Jew in here.
Spits that word out like its bitter,
And not the twenty first century,
We’re not prejudiced, are we?
And they laugh, until the pain in their stomachs is too much to bare. Where were you?
Too busy telling kids to
Put the ball away,
Cleaning up spilled ketchup,
Or lowering the voices that rise to the top
Of the lunchtime murmur.
Where were you when they asked her,
“Do you even exercise?”
When they ignored the look of defeat on her face when they screeched.
One said yeah she does, if you count changing the channel on the TV,
They poked at her arms and stomach and thighs.
One said yeah she does, if you count lifting your hand
To put chips in your mouth.
Where were you when she learned
That laughter can sting more than the blows she receives from her father,
When she looked in the mirror and saw exactly what they saw,
Tore the beautiful right from her skin.
Where were you then?
Wandering the halls?
Telling kids to
Get to class?
The people who need you most are right under your nose.
He walks to school every day.
In the rain and the hail and the beating sun,
Tells his mom that he likes the exercise,
Needs to stay in shape to sit on the bench at
JV basketball games.
But walking doesn’t stop them.
He stopped taking the bus because he thought they’d stop too, but they never did.
They still throw
Paper wads at him and kick the backs of his shoes,
They wrote “Fa.g” on his locker, cut him in the lunch line,
Stole his gym bag while he was showering,
Plucked each hair from his chest, sole the man right out of him.
And he still likes boys,
But he’s not
Like he should be.
This is something they never tell you in school:
Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words leave you standing there,
That they had.