“Baby Love” by Courtney Kampa

Courtney Kampa


Gregory had a mole below his left eye
and sometimes kids in our 5th grade class 
would tease him, saying he had chocolate 
on his face. I was the girl who knew it 
was his left eye and not his right. Who listened 
in secret to Oldies 100—music like Baby Love by the Supremes 
and knew every Patsy Cline song by heart. Gregory 
didn’t backpack pocket blades to school like Richard 
or look up girls’ skirts beneath the monkey bars 
the way Kenny did, whose mom let him watch 
all the Late Night TV he wanted. He was nothing 
like Vinny who’d steal the grape juice box 
off your desk when you weren’t looking.
And he didn’t mock William, whose dad worked hard
for a gasoline company—gasoline has the word gas
in it, which all the cool kids thought 
was pretty funny; really classic. Gregory had immaculate 
Ticonderoga erasers and he made my knee-socks droop 
and he made my weak bony ankles 
weaker. At recess before summer a soft piece of sidewalk 
tar was thrown at my feet and I looked up 
and there he was, skipping backwards, a rocket wanting 
me to chase him. Mrs. Rivers led him off to suggest 
alternative ways of procuring
female attention and in those awful green uniform pants
he looked back at me and winked—which is not 
something the average 5th grader does
to another 5th grader. Three weeks later his winking face was fed
into the teeth of a triple car wreck. Eleven years 
and I’m still mouthing the triple syllables 
of his name. Not because he needs me to
but because I have no alternative way of procuring 
his attention. At school I quit talking, Colin inches 
from my face taunting SAY-SOME-THING
but I didn’t, so now I will say something, I will say 
that I cried at our class talent show, watching Gregory’s mom 
out in the audience, shirt mis-buttoned, camera readied,
looking for him, and seeing him
nowhere. I will say that with Gregory gone there was no one 
to stop the boys from snapping 
Stephen’s stutter like a twig across their knees. I’ll say ours 
was a misfit purity. That after art he gave me 
his scissors and I swapped 
him mine, both blades aimed forward, looking at each other 
like we’d just done something 
dangerous. Handles inked with initials 
in handwriting not his, marked the way mothers mark us carefully
when we walk into the world. I’ll say that I still 
have them. Gregory, ask me to name a thing 
as indestructibly beautiful as you, and I cannot. Time disfigures 
those who breathe and those of us who no longer can
but none of that has touched you. Not the cruelty 
of children. Not the gravel and glass
that pushed their way into your green 
restless legs. Not the ugliness of an ambulance
come too late. Not the small grass square 
that mothers and quilts you. Not even the skid marks 
below your brother’s eyes, tire treads 
red across his chest. Love is nothing
if not what takes its time. It takes sweet 
time and it took tar but was taken 
by tar and it’s taken eleven years of not trusting 
the pitch of my voice or the shamed 
insufficiency of what I have 
to say—that at your service I got no further 
than taking a holy card from the altar boy; picture 
of an angel as dark-haired as you: an angel I’d soon shred 
to ribbons, my hand around those handles for the first
and only time. Gregory, think of me 
in St. Joe’s parking lot in July in a sweaty cotton skirt. 
Think of my confession to that angel, in his headband 
of light, how much I liked 
him too. Hoping you had stopped a moment 
in the beatific beating of your wings; in the now-familiar strumming 
of that strange, beseeching harp.

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Courtney Kampa: “I wrote ‘Baby Love’ four years ago while attending the University of Virginia.” (web)

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