In grade school we'd stare
at the clock, the minute hand marching
relentlessly, indifferent to our questions:
How could a minute last so long?
Why does the hand shudder
at each mark of the dial?
Nothing to listen to
but the teacher's voice
shoes scraping under seats
sighs a cough a sneeze
the padded clunk of the blackboard eraser.
A sonic boom cleared out musty minds
and we turned to each other.
Breaking the sound barrier we whispered,
nodding knowingly, having heard of it
in science class. Equations, things squared.
But we weren't scared, except when Russia
planted missiles in Cuba. We said our goodbyes
on the school bus. When that passed
we got inured to unnatural noises.
Bombs didn't drop here anyway.
That all happened overseas
as the elders put it, though some of us
got sent off to hear for themselves.
Or signed up. Fathers and uncles
had all seen action before we were born,
some as refugees, fleeing Europe and wanting
to serve here. Everyone had a story.
But they didn't tell us. Except one
stationed in Burma who pulled out
his souvenir, the Kama Sutra,
whenever we stopped by. Far out
we said then escaped downstairs
where we could hear nothing from above.
Karen Mandell taught writing at the high school and college levels at community senior centers. Her stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines. Karen has written Clicking, interconnected short stories, and Rose Has a New Walker, a book of poetry.