By Marc Tretin

Featured Art: Snap-the-Whip by Winslow Homer, 1873

In ’69, to avoid the draft, I taught at Mt. Tryon
Boarding School for Troubled Boys and there
I hit a child. Afterward I imagined
I was on top of an explosive ammo truck
manning a gun, squeezing off bullets
at young bodies of boys who’d tried
to run to the back of our truck to soft-toss
a grenade that could blow us into
strips of meat. It seemed better to be scared
in that V.C.-controlled village I’d
never been to than to think of squeaky-voiced
and fat Gerry, who at thirteen, threw chalk
at me, hit a younger boy,
and always grabbed that kid’s crotch.

I was in charge of him and ten others. For punishment
they’d have to sit without making a sound, but Gerry
sang, “Try to shut me up. Try to shut
me up.” I was afraid the others would join him.
My hands felt like clubs. Then
I swung and his nose spurted surprised
blood that dripped to his shirt from his chin.
The principal came from the main office.
I was gone.

                       So this is why, my son,
when you, at thirteen, said,
“I don’t know who I am. I don’t know
who I am!” I said, “Be glad you
haven’t done anything that makes you choke
on who you are,” and I put up
my paper to read about how, somewhere,
a soldier was shooting civilians.

Marc Tretin is a retired attorney with a book under contract with New York Quarterly Press: Pink Mattress. He is currently studying for an MFA in poetry at Spalding University. Tretin lives from poem to poem.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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