Grammar School

By Mark Belair

Featured Art: Project for an Overdoor by Carlo Marchionni or Filippo Marchionni

Through the municipal green, overpainted wire mesh
obscuring the grammar school basement windows

comes the spank of a basketball not engaged in any game,
just pounded in place in an empty, echoing cafeteria, then

an outside metal door gets gut-punched open to release
gruff-voiced janitor, belt keys jangling, cursing at the world

while from a first-floor office a stretch of plastic packing tape
screaks off a roll as a phone rings and a copy machine whumps

as if providing a bass line to a class that, upstairs,
bursts into a trebly, mocking laugh, after which,

yet farther up, in a distantly reverberant bathroom, a toilet
flushes and keeps running even after a door slams shut and

all the old, hard memories flood
back enough for me to know

that if a documentary film was made
about daily life in grammar school—

with shot after shot of small, solemn faces
taring out at us—

its scoreless soundtrack
would be this.

Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Euphony Journal, Harvard Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. He is the author of seven collections of poems, most recently the companion volumes Taking Our Time and Running Late (Kelsay Books, 2019). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times, as well as for a Best of the Net Award.

Originally published in Issue 19.

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