From a Childhood
by Bruce Cohen
They have removed my shoelaces
Though I am not in jail nor is anyone
Afraid I might commit suicide.
Progressively I resemble an abstract child
Relearning to speak after a seizure in
A department store on the last shopping
Day. It is not part of the cashier’s job
Description to save my life. I am sleeping
On top of the blankets in a cheap motel
With my shoes laced & glasses still on.
I am just a boy coming home late and
My mother is waiting on the stoop;
I can tell even from this dusky distance
Her worry will turn to a slapping-screaming
Rage once she realizes I am safe. Funny
How emotions are quick-change artists.
I count my hidden money several times
A day, though not for miserly reasons.
My fingers are cramped & sore from
Writing in the margins of those
Mysterious standardized tests whose
Results are never shared with us.
My calluses are stained deep gray
From pencil lead. I have never written
What I actually thought and intend not
To do so my entire life. My parents
Are having a cocktail party; most of
The guests are already tipsy, laughing
And gulping canned smoked oysters on
Tiny orange crackers. Everyone has piled
Their coats on the guest bed: mink stoles,
Long woolen overcoats, puffy imitation
Jackets. I climb on the heap and every one
Has a different odor, not all unpleasant.
When adults visit I become invisible, which
I like, especially when I crawl under
The dining room table & examine the ladies’
Nylons & witness the men’s wandering
Hands. I eavesdrop on their conversations,
Which should not be confused with family
Secrets I should not repeat to anyone and all
Their beautiful complications that remain unlaced.
Bruce Cohen is director of the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes at the University of Connecticut. His work has appeared in various literary magazines including Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Ohio Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, and Quarterly West. (1/2006)