It was 1980; the hostages had sat
in Tehran a hundred days.
The school clock's stiff hands
clicked with my teacher's voice
correcting me again and again
as I called Holden Caufield's sister
Phobey instead of Phoebe.
Finally, he had to bomb my desk
with a twenty-pound dictionary.
"Look it up!" he screamed.
It was a well-planned rescue.
Half a life later
as I look at the cities
we have mouthed our way into
my tongue halts before it sends
a word on its way,
unsure how to pronounce
stunted prayers, wrecked museums,
what the living say
about the dead.
The boys, high and thin, hear the hushed spray
of what they tag on the wall but can’t see
in the dark except for the peach-light hum
behind them from the school lot
with its painted arrows that go out and in.
They imagine their despair as like the very poor's
who have no schools, tag the subway trains,
and wear loose-falling jeans like their own.
While the script swells on the brick
they learn, by their own mimicking,
of feeling that is and is not their own.
Afterwards, ambling from lawn to lawn
in the silent night, hard-whispering
the urgency that will not fits its thought,
they are caught in headlights, arrested by the police,
loathed by their parents, kept out of school,
(one will never return), the way
the moose who wandered town for a month,
who made the evening news, lost from his forest
enjoying the nuzzle of lawn chairs,
the tap of his hooves on macadam,
fell from wonder to nuisance with a speed
beyond what his quiet lumber could carry
and was stunned by men in green as he bowed
his well-carved head to love the well-kept grass.
They lay him sideways on the metal bed of truck
and drove him back to the wild,
but not to the wild of his before.
Elizabeth Crowell is a poet and high school English teacher and department chair in a suburb of Boston. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Adirondack Review, The Bellingham Review, Hollins Critic, Poetlore, and Salamander. contact