We needed the things we needed right away.
Then turned them into what we wanted.
Even friendship. She was my best friend,
impulsive as a thrown rock.
She’d picked me from the line our first day in school,
then I picked her. I’d have been first but for my lazy eye,
which she was drawn to, admiring also perhaps
the dread in my gait. I liked her lowered chin,
as if readying for a charge, her pinched mouth
refusing to answer even the teacher.
We shared applesauce spoons and milkstraws.
We made room for each other on a single chair.
We did not want their cupcakes.
Like the two elder Fates before a third was born,
we busied ourselves in the back of the classroom,
using thumbtacks to draw out long threads from our dresses,
pretending to sew. We shape-shifted hourly
into hurt horses, singing lightning bolts, lava lakes.
We went on a field trip, there would be animals
and who knew what, since we were both
poor listeners—or maybe we just forgot in the hot dust
of the two-hour busride jolting us away from the playground,
whispering about the municipal pool that would open next week
where we’d both swim without my knowing how.
So cramped and hot that when the bus pulled up
near an above-ground cement pool, we were first
to whoop and leap from the ridged rubber steps
of the bus, racing over gravel to clamber,
panting, up the side to see, over the edge,
no sweet expanse of limb-quenching blue.
A pit. Snakes of every color and girth,
dozens writhing over and around each other,
seeming to merge and unmerge, coiling about
dead pieces of tree installed for them
like a jungle gym in reverse, built down
into the ground. They boiled and glittered like punishment.
Slowly we looked up into each other’s stricken eyes,
and knew then—knew—that one day
I would move away, that on the ride back
we would begin to disagree.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 32 Number 1, on page 30
Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com