Two Poems

At My Twenty-Year High School Reunion

 

Over the loud Thompson Twins music, I can barely hear

            the Mormon turned acid head turned

life insurance salesman telling me he went through

            high school thinking he was the only one

in our class who masturbated.  “Oh, I masturbated

            all the time,” I shout, only now the 80s beats

have stopped and a couple people laugh―the cheerleader-

            turned-dentist we fantasized about while we

masturbated and the quarterback-turned-anchorman

            who slept with her while we wished we could

be in his place.  I don’t care.  Those people are nothing

            to me, because in high school, they made me feel

like nothing.  I locate my old Dungeons & Dragons buddy and

            my old “girl-space-friend” — not “girlfriend” —

who nevertheless let me take her to prom.  The reunion’s

been on for three hours, and I just arrived, so D&D buddy

asks “Where’ve you been all night?”  I say, “I came down with

 

Connie, and she took forever to get ready.  While she got

a manicure, I went out to dinner with her husband and

her boyfriend.”  I explain, as best as I can, how Connie and her

husband decided to live as roommates and friends with no

official divorce, while Connie dated her husband’s navy buddy.

Where’s Connie now?” asks my old girl-space-friend,

and I realize Connie has been in the parking lot

this whole time, putting on makeup.  So we decide to go out

to coax Connie in.  This Connie-drama is a time capsule

back to sophomore year, when the three of us colored Easter eggs

with Connie in a psych ward after she pointed a gun at a cop,

back to senior year, when Connie’s sister Carmen shot herself and

the three of us hugged Connie at the funeral and had nothing to say.

The four of us head back inside, and our class president shouts at me

over loud Bow Wow Wow music, “I have a ruler of yours!”

Her cousin, Bill, had been in my fifth grade class.  He was small, and

I guess people picked on him, though I never did.  In eighth grade, Bill

 

was riding his moped and he hit a wire fence, which killed and half-

            decapitated him.  A ruler with my name on it was in his room

when he died, and the way our class president remembered it, I had been

            his best friend.  “What was it like for you when Bill died?

How did you deal with it?”  How can I tell her I hardly knew him?

            She’s kept my ruler for twenty-five years!  It means something

to her.  I say “That was so long ago.  It was my first encounter with

            death.  It tore me up,” but I’m thinking, So that’s what happened

to my rulerWhat did he measure with it?  This makes me think of

            those spam emails for male enhancement, trying to make everyone feel

like they don’t measure up, the way the ruck of us go through high school

            believing we don’t measure up.  The cheerleader-turned-dentist

bangs her wine glass with a spoon.  She wants to make a toast.  To Bill,

            I think, holding up my Diet Coke.  To Carmen, To Connie, To everyone

who went through high school feeling alone and thought they were the only ones.

            She says “Here’s to you, Thomas Jefferson Raiders,

Class of ’87.  I’m so glad you all came.”

Killer Instinct, Unknown Causes

   I’m early for the tennis tourney in
Lexington, KY. It’s a gorgeous late-April day,
   perfect for tennis, no wind evident and
the sun hangs overhead like a perfectly-placed
   defensive lob. I’m happy to be getting some

sun and some tennis, doubly happy because
   I gave myself the day off work for this,
canceled classes and drove the 150 miles
   from Bowling Green. I’ll miss my sons
this weekend, and my wife, of course, but I’ll

   be bonding, over volleys and drop shots
and burgers and belches, with my merry band
   of tennis playing buds. I sit in tree-shade, half
watching players warm up on court one, half
   re-reading King Lear, which I’ll be teaching,

Monday at 8am, to my honors students. I’m in
   Act III, where Regan and Cornwall gouge out
one of poor Gloucester’s eyes. According to a
   footnote in my text, in some productions the
actors toss the eye back and forth like a ball,

   while in other productions, they juggle it like
a hackey sack. I suppose, since I need to
   psych myself up for my match, I ought to try
to identify with Regan and Cornwall, who have
   killer instinct in spades. No doubt, they were a

cutthroat doubles team on the lawn tennis courts.
   I should be reading Winning Ugly by tennis guru Brad
Gilbert, who advises us to game our opponents
   through nefarious tactics such as warming up early,
then disappearing into the locker room, showing up

   late, conning our opponent into rushing the warmup,
thinking they’re rushing us when really we’re
   rushing them. Or I should be reading Tennis Magazine,
which used to run ads for mail-order tee shirts
   dyed tennis court-green with a ball-yellow smear

guaranteed to distract any opponent. Anything but
   this play, which teaches compassion, the last thing
an athlete needs to show, by depicting its cruel
   opposite. But I can’t put Shakespeare down, even
when Gloucester’s longterm servant (Servant #1) says

   “You have you one eye left,” which, of course,
prompts Regan and Cornwall to pluck that one, too.
   Good going, Servant #1! Why not say, “hey, my liege,
at least they didn’t jam that red hot poker over there
   into thy nether regions,” a fashionable torture technique

at the time, and one Lear fantasizes about using
   on his two evil daughters, which I don’t think I
could ever do, to my sons, I mean, even if they did
   steal my throne and lock me outside on a stormy night.
Who loves you, Gloucester? Not Servant #1, it seems,

   and that’s the big theme of the play, right? The importance
of knowing who’s got your back. Man, it’s hard
   to enjoy the beauty of the afternoon while reading Act V,
where Lear keels over, broken and brokenhearted, with
   the truly faithful, truly dead Cordelia in his arms.

The songbirds above my head seem to turn to
   vultures when Gloucester’s rightful heir, Edgar, is
slain, in a sword fight, by Edmund, Gloucester’s bastardly
   bastard son. When Edmund has a deathbed conversion,
like Lear, turned good too late, I start weeping, and

   I imagine the local Lexington tennis players,
especially my first round opponent, saying
   “Look at that guy cry. He can’t have any killer instinct.”
I should be getting ready to serve merciless aces,
   not feeling sad for fictional characters, certainly not

feeling sad for Shakespeare, who, in 1596, lost
   his eleven-year-old son, Hamnet, who died of
unknown causes. Now, if writing were tennis,
   Shakespeare would beat me 6-0, 6-0, every time,
but would I trade places with him? Trade any one

   of my sons for Shakespeare’s charmed quill? No.
My friends, literary contacts, students, and fellow
   contributors to little magazines will have to live with
my lesser poems. Would I give up a son if it meant
   gaining the greatest backhand on earth? No. Tennis

fans will have to accept watching Rafael Nadal
   collecting another French Open trophy, Roger Federer
kissing another Wimbledon trophy. To protect my boys
   from death, if needed, I’d let some wicked queen
gouge out my eyes. I’d gladly let a hot poker enter my

   rectum. Those are just words, you may say. Just
words. I love words, but I’d give those up, too, a month,
   a year, with no spoken language, no written language,
to protect my boys from death by causes, known
   or unknown. I’d do it, Lord, I swear it.

Tom C. Hunley is an assistant professor of English at Western Kentucky and the director of Steel Toe Books(www.steeltoebooks.com). He has  poems forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Texas Review, and River Styx. He recently won two national contests, one for a full-length poetry manuscript (Logan House Press) and another for a chapbook (Pecan Grove Press). He is  also the author of Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five-Canon Approach (Multilingual Matters LTD. 2007).

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