By Laura Read
Featured Art: Seated Man and Woman by Célestin François Nanteuil
At the middle school meeting for parents of children
in Accelerated Learning, I sit at a lunch table across
the cafeteria from him. At first he is just
part of the scene, like the board listing prices
for soda and chips, or the English teacher addressing us,
famous for tearing up a kid’s paper if it wasn’t
double-spaced. She is talking about the importance
of Latin roots, this new language made from taking apart
what they already know. On the first day of school,
my son recited them to me from the back seat,
wearing his new cool sweatshirt and no longer carrying
a lunchbox, his lunch jammed instead into a plastic
bag like the ones he told me the other kids would have.
Port. Carry. Co com con. With. The man’s face
is starting to look like two faces, like that optical
illusion of an old woman and a young woman,
the same line for the chin and the nose.
The teacher tells us, They’re going to struggle.
They’re going to fail. They’re twelve. Let’s face it—
no one here wants to go back to seventh grade.
And then the man leans over to his wife and I can tell
he is saying he wouldn’t mind, and that’s when I know
he is the boy leaning back on his chair in Latin
to make fun of Lyra for her pigtails and calico,
her face, scrubbed and chaste. He wore a letter jacket
with his name scrawled between his shoulder blades.
And I was brave and defended her, but he just kept on,
day after day, until she and I both said nothing,
translating in silence what Caesar was doing to Gaul.
Biblio. book. Scrib. write. One day this summer,
a group of boys who go to this school were mean
to my son at the pool. Aqua. Water. Miso. Hate.
One of them the boy who woke me up
on the first-grade campout, crying, asking me
to go find his dad, but I said no. And took
some strange pleasure in his face scrunched up
like that, the way I used to watch my son’s mouth
when he cried and waited for a moment
to comfort him so I could see the feeling
quiver there like something almost solid,
something so sweetly vulnerable,
something you knew you could crush.
Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015