Middle Children, #183

At the end-of-the-year High School assembly
with all the proud parents shuffled in from work
filling the parking lot and proud papa grinning,
the art and music teachers, the math,
history and quiz bowl instructors,
our mean English witch would hand out pens
and kitschy certificates.

The score was kept
on a metal board, flashing
like pop bulbs from cameras,
like fifties unrolled to purchase
a new car. Every time the monkey
placed the ball through the hoop,
the board would flash, the crowd
would cheer. It would have
been less weird if our mascot
were syringes or if a man
with cubes of cheese ran around,
tossing them into the crowd when
we stood, sat, waved, chanted
on cue for our seed, our kindred,
our physically talented offspring.

It was designed as an opportunity
for everyone of us who never sat down
at the fine roast-beef-roast scheduled annually
for the undefeated regional
section two, class D, state conference
champions to feel included
in the preening of the school.

The score was well-planned,
like a bank heist or the battle
of Bunker Hill, the one where
they ran short on ammo
and so told the soldiers
not to fire until they saw
the whites of their eyes.
White like a canvas on which
you can paint the lids, the lashes,
but not the eyes. It would
have been easier to take photos,
touch them on computers
that didn’t yet exist, redraw
edges and Polaroid pictures.
The score was on the board.

So we grow and we leave for our four corners
of the world. We end working in sales
and marketing, as cops on the beat
and some of us failed actors and artisans,
as teachers. On Fridays we leave work
early, get a jump on the weekend
where we will pay to watch those athletes,
chant their names, lament prices.

The score was what
it always was, Jay-V teams
of not-yets and rejects huffing
it out like a pack of passionate
asthmatics, hardworking, about to die
any minute. The coach would stalk
the bench trying to feel like Riley
or Lombardi, hoping to spew
something memorable. He looked
back on his own school record
and rubbed a mustache,
wanting nothing more
than to hang a new banner,
raise a trophy. The score
was on the board.

Outside the assembly doors on two by fours
Ms. Adams would showcase our fledgling drawings,
the off-kilter sculptures and fired ceramics,
trying to make the principle act
of creation vital in the minds
of our frugal superintendent,
the parents and taxpayers.

The score got higher and higher
the further the rung one went.
A loner in junior high had no problem
meeting or exceeding expectations
as long as he didn’t set
the school on fire or sass
a teacher. Sure, the occasional
weakling would get pummeled
or a pattern of missed days,
some off-handed back-handed
comment to a teacher, par
for the course, grist
for the court, a reason
to be standing out in a field.
The score was on the board.

My mother would wear her only party dress,
the one that made it to teacher conferences
and anniversaries accented with Chanel.
They would hide in the seats in the far
back corner and if we peeked, smile
and wave, a prideful torment.

The score was not the score.
It would have been nice,
easier even, if we were given
jerseys and the parents
were given placards and we
were told when to stand
and they were told when to cheer.
Instead, we all had to make due
with the patterns we were fed,
with the body we were given,
with the broken down gymnasium
we were told to use
so the new floor in the new gym
would not get scuffed up.
The score was on the board.

In the old gym they would set out folding chairs,
no signs, no banners, no pomp nor circumstance,
not once did the masses chant the recipient’s
name. Even in victory we knew
the appeasements carried no value,
no potential for cash currency
or college scholarship. Lame.

The score was jocks fifty,
non-jocks ten, a lopsided victory
that all but assured
the continuation of policies
of resentment and anger.
It would have been easier
if we had been handed
a mask and told to put in on.
Step inside a ring and pretend
to be a warrior, a combat veteran,
a super-hero, a teacher,
whatever gimmick best serves
the moment. It would have been
better if we could serve overhand.
The score was on the board.

The high school chorus would perform a rendition
of a pop song some ten years gone, royalty
free. They would butcher mercilessly that dead thing.
Ms. Baldwin would attempt to mimic
the conductor who taught her, who told
her she didn’t have the where-with-all
to be a great musician.

The score was a tally
of a number of people
getting pens and the number
of people getting free rides,
the split between black and white,
the political versus the actual.
When the question was put
before the town, one would have
been hard-pressed to come with
a reason why the people
who took office took office.
Democracy is what you get
when talent is the least of your worries.
All hail the charismatic and the pretty.
The score was on the board.

I think we all knew, parents, kids, principals
teachers of meaningful, profitless subjects
that we were faking it, trying to live to
some ideal, where value is not
determined by the lights of scoreboards
or headlines in the paper. That world
was not this counterfeit world.

The score was measured
on charts in the nurses office.
Each year like clockwork
we would send our GI children
out of class to get measurements
for height and weight, for
visual and audio acuity,
hoping their numbers would help
with recruiting. We would send
the statistics off to the state
and wait to hear back. Nothing.
The reason we love the scoreboard
in the corner was instant feedback.
How do I know you love me?
The score is on the board.

The old gym is empty. The custodians
have tore down the podium and all the chairs.
The parking lot is gravel and long yellow lines.
I walk there, when no one is watching
to see if I can get back a page
thrown out in anger, words I misplaced,
some kitschy certificate.

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A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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