Linda S. 1962
Long before Easter, you showed up in white,
the rats’ nest of your hair embellished
with a red barrette. Miss Thomas said,
“My, Linda, dear how nice you look today!
Class, doesn’t Linda look nice today?”
We were ashamed, but there you were:
a beaming emissary from the Gold Coast,
where all are equally sick, equally poor,
wearing a dress as light and dove-soft as
a peony–a bit too much cologne, perhaps.
(I envied your not having to take baths.)
All day she praised the dress and just to please her,
you wore it every day thereafter
till the petticoat was gray and wilted
beneath the gray, bedraggled hem.
You were better than I in English and math,
and often when I finished tests too soon,
I’d watch the calculations of your grubby hands,
and earn a black mark with a whistled tune.
I was easily put up to things
and frequently advanced before the class
to place black marks next to my name
(marks as large as my small hand
and dark as the soot on yours)
for laughing in the lunch line or passing
forgeries of Grady Brandon’s love
to your friend Goldie. (I thought
you were friends because you both were poor.)
Now when I wash my stockings in the sink
or, dead-tired, patch my iron-worn skirt
to go to work, Linda, I think of you,
gussied up and feeling like a queen,
almost like everybody else for once.
Patsy M. 1965
In Mrs. Ray’s sixth-grade homeroom,
I didn’t have a friend in all the world.
My adaptation of Macbeth and shy
refusal of Ted Jank’s State Fair ring
made me about as welcome as a friend
as you were showing up again
with bruises on your eyes and arms
from your daddy’s fists.
You were my only company
in the playground’s outlands,
from which we watched our classmates
swarm like gnats above cow pies or
angels on a pin. When you sidled over,
cracked your gum, and spoke to me, I greeted
your attention with the joy of the redeemed.
You had savoir-faire, I thought, and won
my admiration when you skipped school–
one time to stitch a dress by hand
(you proudly showed the toothy seams to me).
At recess you recited the details
of your brutal family life as if
you were just naming candies in a shop
or capitals of the western world.
I might as well have been the moon.
At the sock hop, Lord, I yearned to dance
with Billy Cree (whose dark eyes
and soulful limp occupied my mind
during sermons and piano lessons),
but suddenly you said, “You can’t dance
with him! He’s a cripple!”
Near the playground where we met
was an asbestos-shingled “country club”
on sixteenth-section land. I spent
every morning of the summer there
diving through bright air into an empty pool,
and when I’d gone as far and deep as I could go,
I paused a moment, glad I was alone.
Barbara B. 1968
You were the fondest bad example
for all the Baptist youth, had drunk whiskey,
run off with cowboys twice your age,
and lost, it was said, a baby or two
in punishment for your sins.
You seemed to drift from school to school
always carrying the same tattered book bag
full of mascara, lipstick, eyelash curlers,
hairspray, emery boards, eye shadow (peacock
blue), loose face powder, tweezers, combs,
True Stories, Lord knows what, a pack of Kools.
I was in the girls’ room twice
when you did your eyes.
I had lots of so-called friends by then,
most of whom blamed me when they got home late
(they were very, very good),
borrowed my clothes, and took my boyfriends.
None of them would speak to you,
not even when you showed the whole wide world
the in’s and out’s of zippers in Home Ec.
You found me weeping in my Corvair once
and pulled a tissue from your bag for me
and said the wisest, kindest things
I ever heard from another girl.
In spring you and Bob Spike of Pelahatchie,
after a night at the Silver Spur
flew off Dead Man’s Curve at eighty per
and kissed your last in flames.
At your funeral, pious Brandon girls
with damp eyes and new dresses murmured
pious phrases (glad they weren’t caught
that way) and just to prove their goodness,
dedicated a whole damn week to God.
© 1986, 2012