Graduation Day

By Ian Christopher Hooper

Featured Art: Riders through the Canyon By Frank Nelson Wilcox

There was a time when
I measured the distance from June to August
in the rise & fall of empires, when
each summer night reached

from Jerusalem to Karakoram, when
the abandoned apple trees behind our house
became primeval forest, wild except for the shadow of rows, & as a child I dug

holes in the garden, found
buried treasure,

dredged the creek for the rusted shards of Excalibur,
wandered the streets with Sara & Michael
from the first hiss of the sprinklers
until long after the street lights winked on.

Then time came
the years collapsing into relationships, holidays, family,
accidents & horrors, the sudden realization

there was never any age of kings,
just some rusted pennies & a splintered plastic cup buried in the mud.

How on that very last day of childhood, I picked up Sara
from her parents’ house, drove
her over to Columbine,
how we noticed there was no snow left
on the mountains, that it was
oddly hot for May.

Michael was already in the school parking lot, a
backseat full of oversized squirt guns, super
soakers, water balloons for
the celebratory battle we’d planned, how a picnicking family
waved to us from the park across the street.

It was 1988, & Sara hadn’t died yet in
that Boulder emergency room, hit by a sleepy driver.

Michael hadn’t drowned, white-water rafting on the Big Thompson.

How no one outside of Colorado had ever heard of Littleton, of active
shooter drills or lock downs.

How on that day we played as children one last time, &
there were no deaths but our deaths,
overly dramatic & temporary.

How Michael once told me Sara’s lips
tasted like those little wax bottles
they used to sell at the corner stores, that is to say
of sugar water but also
(I imagined jealously)
of contentedness & peace.

Rarest, most fleeting
of flavors.

Ian Christopher Hooper grew up in Littleton, Colorado, where he currently is a teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in MississippiReview, Adirondack Review, Gargoyle, and North American Review, where he was a finalist for the James Hearst Poetry Prize.

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