by Keegan Lester
That Jesus was hanging
crooked against the wall of my social studies class
on his cross, & that it was April
& morning & that my teacher who then
still speaking with an accent
which may have been from Arkansas or Vermont
& held the magic of perhaps being from anywhere
but here, & the part I most remember
is the nicotine yellow
of her teeth rotting before our eyes.
I remember that year we wrote reports on a state
& I chose Washington
because the one thing I knew then
about Washington was Washington
had wild orcas swimming up & down its coast. Do you like
apples or something children teased.
No, I like orcas, I would say. I remember
a woman from the office whispering
into the ear of my teacher. I remember
my teacher not yet crying,
walking over to the television the way paramedics are trained to walk
which is in slow motion. Steady
movements as if we were the small precious animal
that might dart
into the dank soft of wood
with any misstep on her part. I remember
the television warmed
a second before flicking on,
that it had a dial, & the class so quiet
I could feel the catch of each turn
landing into its notch
& continuing on as if it was my spinal cord,
my vertebrae with each notch moving onward.
I remember a grainy version of them.
That they were older kids, baggy sweaters
& ill-fitting jeans, running out of a school,
hands glued to the back of their heads,
ducking beneath an invisible boom, heads lowered
as if in prayer. I remember
the policeman who spoke in front of a podium
had a mustache like my father’s
& the woman newscaster’s hair tangled
like a bushel of wheat. I remember men on rooftops
in army gear, guns drawn
pointed at a school in Colorado. At that age,
the only thing I knew of Colorado
was the Rocky Mountains were there
& of the snow in those mountains
killing the Donner party, & the Donner party
killing the Donner party,
& the first time I ever heard the word cannibalism.
I remember we were taught
they so badly wanted to live in California
to start new, back when California
still touched Texas like a brother’s shoulder. Now,
I don’t think the Donner party even died
in Colorado. The Donner party
might not have even stepped foot
in Colorado, is how much I knew
about Colorado in April of 1999
before a lazy graphic spun
onto the screen, which came to be known as a swipe
from center to lower right, reading
13 people dead,
which is then & now the lucky number of my family.
I remember Bill Clinton’s face
red & puffy, & he speaking slow
with his pointer finger
that day, back in the days
where he was tough on crime
& lax on domestic terrorism. Think bloated prisons, think
Waco, think Super Predator, Unabomber, Oklahoma City & Wal-Mart.
Think all the things we learned
& did not learn on a television screen
during social studies class in the sixth grade.
I remember a police officer said There were two
loner teenage gunman,
which means each gunman had one more friend than I that day.
I grew up
in the country of they are trying to take our guns away
from us. I grew up in the country of they
took our children away with their guns.
I grew up in the country of they took our children
away. I grew up in the country of they took our children
with their guns. I grew up
in the country of they took
our children away with their guns.
up in the country of they took
our children away.
I grew up in the country of they
took our children away with their guns. I
grew up in the country
of they took & took & took & took our children
away with our guns
& they broadcasted it on television,
so I could learn
something of America in my social studies class.
Keegan Lester is the author of this shouldn't be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it, selected by Mary Ruefle for the 2016 Slope Editions Books Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Academy of American Poets Poem A Day Series, The Boston Review, Diode, The Journal, and The Adroit Journal among others. He is the poetry editor and co-founder of the journal Souvenir Lit and tweets at @keeganmlester.