SEVENTH GRADE
 
Who’s on First? That movie comedy routine
I hadn’t seen—
We read it to ourselves in the hot classroom.
It took up many pages of the textbook.
The old teacher in his tweeds–
He sat at the cracked wooden desk
And I sat in the closest seat near him, though he was
Remote and distant.
After lunch, seventh period of eight.
It was the worst time of day.
There was a pair of underpants in the trash can next to his desk.
I could see them. They were there as we read
The confusing transcription of the comedy sketch.
“Who’s on first?” I didn’t get it, couldn’t explain it.
Who did these belong to?
What did it mean? It was 3:15 when class started.
I sat at the corner of the first row and the first row.
The waste basket just to my left.
My desk opened–they all did–but didn’t belong to me.
All day long we moved around, to their classrooms.
He had been called a perv–now I believed it.
“Who’s on third?”
Why is this blue pair of underpants there?
Who’s on first, what’s on second, third base!
So boring, who cared?
Several of us walked up to—where?
To the waste basket. We asked,
“What are those doing there?”
He didn’t really speak, kind of growled, really;
We were unruly, he seemed to say, but answered nothing.
 
 
FOR WORSE, FOR POORER, IN SICKNESS
 
It was easy to forgive prostitutes in Mexico,
Also in Amsterdam. Less easy was the money thrown around
On Avenida Presidente after driving down,
Dollar bills rained on the sidewalk from our closed joint account.
 
Marriage was a defeat. Marriage was a humiliation.
 
                                                              One could be
Alone of course, but the same problem he had, I had.
 
I would take care of him who might never get better.
I’d recycle the staff’s soft drink cans from work: an extra $15.00 a month, I’d sell
Whatever.
I’d stop wanting anything better, anything more.
I wanted health to come back. I wanted a normal conversation like we’d had.
As I said back then, if we hadn’t known each other for over ten years
I’d have left. It was
So strange, as alien as the aliens who told him
The secrets of mathematics, the ones who spoke
A Geometry-English.
 
Finally there came a kindness,
A lack of depth, a lack of aggravation.
 
  For better, for richer, in health—all this goes into the past.
 
You may get peace; you can earn the money back,
You may get better rather fast, but you never return ever
 
To writing down plans for the next five years—the house we’d own, how we’d raise
Our kids, how we’d support each other’s
Successes. Love would never be that love again:
Glorious vision of youth, the riches
Of coins and rubies we gained, clean children around the groaning table.
 
 

UNION STATION, 3:55 PM
 
Liminal spaces
Are the least passive places
White noise White walls Tiled faces.
Screech of coffee maker
Scream of hello but really
Voices low and nothing filled out, no information
Filled in—pantomime across the room—hug
Is hello or goodbye, fight is going on, but how can you tell.
 
Nothing of consequence or maybe all of it
Is terminal. The sun looms full but it is
Going to go dim. I’m going to look at candy in a can
For longer than I’d ever do. We can wander out
And wander in. And we might be stopped
By a woman who appears out of the dark to ask for $3.00.
 
You can say yes or no. No one will praise or judge you. Then you
 
You just continue.
 
The train is boarding, it says so on the board, and now it’s left.
 
The station won’t hold on to you, won’t help—just do your best.
 
It purloins junk food or cocktails. It pays back nothing. It frees us
 
from the state of being ourselves.
 
 

Stephanie Brown

STEPHANIE BROWN is the author of two books of poetry, Domestic Interior and Allegory of the Supermarket. She received Fellowships from the NEA and Breadloaf. Her work has appeared in six editions of Best American Poetry; American Poetry Review, Ploughshares and others. She was the Poetry Editor for Zócalo Public Square from 2010-2016 and is a public library administrator.

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