An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Old Elementary

Terrified or furious, my brother would call me:
it's in there, he'd swear, in the old elementary—

desperate to blame something—asbestos,
radiation, unhappiness itself—

to place, displace the cancer onto the first school
he despised, in the despised small town

where we grew up. I drive past it every time
I go back there, the building abandoned

years ago by all but vagrant pigeons.
The utter childlessness of the playground

fronts it, lifeless swings, foot worn furrows
beneath, once slick from use, almost closed over,

a cicatrix of dandelions and wire grass.
Then the stern-faced architecture, strict dormers,

the heavy, recessed doors through which we entered,
two stories, walls all windows, every one

he stared out from, his back to hissing radiators,
oil-polished wood floors, crayonwax,

pencil shavings, the chronic dust of lead,
chalk, faint fear—and the long hallways

not hard for me to imagine empty,
dimly lit, where I recall waiting for him

one cavernous afternoon, when all
the other children had been released, and he

was kept after, inside, in there, for punishment,
in there for some small forgotten thing.

 

Published: 26 October 2009
© 2009 Claudia Emerson and Southern Spaces