CHEWING GUM UPSKIRT
On the Avenue of the Americas,
at noon two weeks ago Tuesday, a nun
paced the grimy concrete, robed in black,
a starched, white veil framing her stunning face,
one-in-a-million supermodel cheekbones.
Fifth grade, St. Agnes School, we boys bet on
whether Sister Helen had hair beneath
her wimple. Blonde? Redhead? A pageboy cut?
Fishnets under her floor-length skirt? She shone
in daydreams: rosary beads against nude skin.
Today, my six-year-old son wriggled under
the deck, a crawl space half-lit by thin slits
of sky between planks. The yellow pencil
he had dropped, a long-lost fork, an ancient
pack of bubble gum—pushed up through the cracks.
Near Manila, my father in fifth grade
would plead some urgency—bathroom break?
dizziness?—to get himself out of class,
then shimmy underneath just such a floor,
gaps between boards to let in cool river air
for Miss Persephone Burke of Nebraska,
a Thomasite teacher. Frilly white blouse,
red belt, navy blue skirt sweeping the floor.
For a marvelous prank and bragging rights,
he would hide a slim, yard-long bamboo cane
with a small pyramid of Wrigley’s gum
panhandled from American soldiers.
Giggling to himself, he would chew and chew
until a hearty glob perched on the end
of the rod. Crouching directly below
Miss Burke, he’d reach up gingerly and stick
the wad into her underclothes. A boy
straining after what he could not have,
joy and bliss forever beyond his grasp:
America, Lady Liberty, the stars.
—from Rattle #24, Winter 2005
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