ELEMENTARY

Each morning we stood
as the Principal intoned
the Pledge of Allegiance
over the tinny PA system.
One morning as we rose,
hands over hearts,
we noticed someone
had put up the Canadian flag
in the holder over the door.
The Principal threatened
to call all of our parents
unless the guilty party
came forward, and we
struggled vainly
to swallow our giggles.
No one came forward
and they found
the Stars and Stripes
stuck in a large mixing bowl
in the kitchen.
The Principal scheduled an assembly
to remind us of our need
to honor the flag and the country,
because it stood for all that was good,
for all that we had
and that everyone else wanted,
but we were under our desks
in the painful tuck position
we would assume if they
ever dropped the bomb.
They didn’t tell us that
if we were close enough to ground zero
the position would let us
leave a neater shadow on the floor.
Some days we sang
My Country ‘Tis of Thee
all except for Larry
who preferred God Save the Queen
until the Principal told him
it was sacrilege, since
we created it and the Brits stole it.
Years later, outside the Federal Building
the Principal, now retired and girding
for battle with Social Security, saw me,
protest sign in hand, flag sewn
across the seat of my jeans.
He stared, then looked away
ashamed at still another failure,
not like his two sons who lay
in eternal repose in the Federal cemetery
on the Island of Oahu.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press, (2008)

MANUAL LABOR

(Instructions for Mourning a Marriage)

It didn’t come with an instruction manual,
no simple, poorly translated diagrams
telling me to “be inserting Tab A
into the Slot B,” none anywhere to be found.
But I was young, and didn’t worry,
despite entreaties to get help first
before beginning the intricate task of assembly.
I laid out all of the parts carefully
until it looked about right, and made
my own checklist, noting each part in detail,
smug when I found that all were present
including a couple that had no discernable purpose.
I cobbled together a small toolkit,
things that looked like they might work
and set about the laborious task of building it.
It went together fairly easily, logical connections
made, wires twisted and wrapped in small bits
of duct tape, until it took shape and function.
I reached out gingerly for the starter switch
and depressed it with great trepidation.
It began to hum, its gears crawled to life,
almost meshing seamlessly, with only
the occasional groan, shake and click
from some dark corner of the machine.

For some time it worked reasonably well,
with occasional starts and stops,
but nothing a little oil didn’t correct.
Every now and again I would find the odd part
left in its wake, and for a while
I would put them in a drawer in my desk.
But they grew too numerous, and since it
kept sputtering along, I slowly discarded them.
Now I can’t tell when it happened, since
I long ago stopped checking it each morning,
but one morning recently I turned to it
and it sat, refusing to move, static.
I pushed and prodded it. It sat.
I changed its battery. It shuddered and sat.
I took it to the repair shop and they stared
until one of them laughed and said,
“There is absolutely nothing we can do, we have
no idea how it worked this long, all we can say
is give it a proper burial, and next time
do yourself a favor and read the fuckin’ manual.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).