Patric Pepper




Rabbits

 

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.

 

 

Mr. Thomas

 

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.

 


Vivid

 

"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.

                                                     Yet, I

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 . . .

temporarily."

                      And what were we to think of that,

his graceless sophomores, there, in English 216?

 



Patric Pepper has published two collections of poetry, a chapbook, Zoned Industrial, and a full length collection, Temporary Apprehensions, which won the 2004 Washington Writers' Publishing House Poetry Prize. His work has most recently appeared in Cape Cod Poetry Review, District Lines, and Gargoyle.









                                    

 

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