The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Patric Pepper
The little bunny, who all summer long fattened on
the daisies and grasses of our meadow-like lawn that
bucks the guidance of the unmanifest, pulls up his lucky
front feet in the sun in the grass in the world, like a natural
Buddha, like a monk in silent meditation (but chewing),
perfect and imperfect. Perfect because he takes what comes,
his thickening coat of winter fur, the warmth of an
impartial star, the grasses and the daisies —and our lettuce;
imperfect because were I to approach him, as I have since
back in June, he'd eventually flinch, show me a look of
Uh-oh! and prudently hop away (though slowly), wanting—
wanting as a Buddha doesn't want —to continue chewing
as a grayish-brown bunny fretting that I, too, might want—
to have him up for supper, which, naturally, I've considered.
Our newly constructed grade school protruded in 1957
from a hillside pasture next to Mr. Bean's dairy farm.
From our classrooms we could see out past the cows
for over a mile down Route 108, beyond the frame houses
said to be former slave quarters less than 100 years before.
Mr. Thomas, the school custodian, somewhat stooped,
with fluffy wings of white hair above his ears,
waved to us as the nuns lined us up for comings and goings.
We would say to him, "Good morning, Mr. Thomas,"
and "Goodbye, Mr. Thomas," as he leaned on his dust mop.
Once after lunch Lucille Lambeau threw up on her desk.
Sister St. Frances sent me to the boiler room for Mr. Thomas.
I knocked. The door swung open. Soft hot air poured out.
Mr. Thomas, seeming somewhat surprised, said, "Hello, Patric!"
I looked up at him, then stared into his sanctuary.
Inside there was an old wooden desk, a hand-me-down
from Father McGowan, no doubt. Assorted mops and brooms
leaned this way and that like broken metronomes,
despite the young age of our school. The boiler hummed,
and all was warmth. "What is it young fella?"
I looked up at our grandfatherly janitor and told him,
"Sister St. Frances wants you, Mr. Thomas. Lucy vomited."
"Well thank you," he chuckled, "Go tell Sister I'll be right along."
But I was already staring again, at the half-eaten tangerine
on his desk, and the pillow in a chair that had four little wheels.
On a gray morning, perhaps in January, Sister St. Frances
pressed her hand to my forehead. "You have a fever, Patric."
She was to call my mother, and I to get my things together
and go sit on the couch in the principal's waiting room.
The authority of the office seemed to have a cooling effect.
Soon Sister arrived to escort me out, and waiting
in front of the school was Mr. Thomas in his elderly car,
something like a '41 Ford coupe, kind of egg-shaped,
puffing out the tailpipe, black as all those early cars
seem to be in memory. Mr. Thomas leaned over to open
the passenger-side door. The heater blew full blast,
and I climbed in while Sister smiled at him as they conversed.
Then he said to me, "You'll be okay, young Patric. You'll be
home to mama soon." And the motor chuff-chuffed through
the muffler, and moved us into the Maryland countryside.
In the overstuffed seat my eyes barely reached to the window,
but I didn't want to look out. I peered at the chromed dash,
wondering where the radio was, maybe asked Mr. Thomas,
"Where's your radio, Mr. Thomas?" And maybe he smiled at me,
And maybe he didn't, but I did look up as he held onto the wheel.
Mother met us in the driveway, thanked Mr. Thomas profusely
and offered a tip, which he accepted. "Thank you, Mr. Thomas,"
I said. He waved, "You're welcome, young fella." That evening,
my father warned mother, "Don't let it happen again," explaining
how "Negroes" ought not to be driving around our neighborhood.
"It's like a wedding party," Professor Wendtly
drifted, "in a white tent . . . one spring at noon . . .
and I rejoiced the couple would make love
very soon in a very special way.
turned my face aside . . . like a graceless peony.
As the couple cut the cake I slipped away,
out through a tent flap, nearly overcome
with solitude and joyousness and angst,
into the virgin air, into the vernal light of
June, into a garden that pulsated —
flushed, breathed, warbled with small birds.
It happened there:
I realized that every day on Earth
is a wedding, and I was there, at last, the groom.
But what was I to think of my diagnosis:
Prostate cancer . . . for heaven's sake.
That was before I learned I would be cured,
temporarily, and that I would return
to teach you novels I'd like to fully understand."
Old Wendtly had us going.
Yet, we sat in stillness,
and no one said a thing when he turned his head
to the window, and the sun magnified his face.
Then Rossi raised his hand,
"So what's your point?"
Professor Wendtly stared, turned to the light again,
"That as you realize just when and what
and where you are, everything is vivid . . .
And what were we to think of that,
his graceless sophomores, there, in English 216?
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