Miss Strong and I

When Miss Strong caught me
during our forty-five minute naptime
reading a Superboy comic
she took it from me and tore
it apart without hesitation
the way a tall skinny man
I had seen on Ed Sullivan
ripped in half a Southern Bell
White pages with his hands
and then held out both halves to the audience.

My classmates raised their heads
and looked at me with pity or contempt
except Steve Brown who had turned
his left eyelid inside out
exposing the pink insides of his eye.
Miss Strong grabbed my arm
and pulled me to the front of the class
where I was expected to stand
for the next twenty minutes
and recite the names of the first
ten presidents and tell the story
of George Washington.
Instead I predicted the spring rain

would come and wash the windows
clean (except for our thumb and noseprints)
and drench the wildflowers
and that it would splash against
the tarred blacktop until it shone
like glass. And I predicted that Miss Strong’s
class would one day get better
because it couldn’t get any worse.
That’s enough she said and rose
again to her full height on black pumps,
her cheeks brushed with rouge
and her lips a bright red, almost
the color of her crimson blazer.

But I hadn’t finished yet.
I said that in ninety days
it would be summer and we would get
out of there for good, and then I
predicted no one in his right
mind would ever marry her.
While the sun slanted through the windows
and the lights flickered
and the radiators gurgled and spit
I smelled her warm breath
and the thick scent of her perfume.

As she gripped my forearm
I predicted that she would break
all her fingernails if she didn’t
stop digging them into my skin
and before too long I heard them snap
and laughed out loud until I could see
a tear squeeze from the corner
of her eye, shining as it ran down
the rutted trail of her cheek
and then I started to cry.