Of course, she was not chosen to deliver
any of the official hail-and-farewells. Would, in fact,
have skipped the whole pomp and circumstance crap
if the principal had not threatened to hold her diploma hostage,
if her parents had not pleaded with her to celebrate
the milestone for their sakes—so she donned
the rented robe, the dorky mortarboard, and paraded
down the auditorium aisles with her beaming so-called peers.
Lots of introductions. Lots of momentous occasions
and memories—many of which Ms. S was already
eager to forget. But she listened politely to the usual
promises of new beginnings, the exhortations to follow
dreams and change the world—even got a bit teary eyed
at the prospect that one of them actually might.
Then the ritual flipping of the tassels, the alma mater
one last time off-key, the filing out to hugs and congratulations
and vows to stay in touch she knew she’d never keep.
Ms. S had her eye on distant horizons, some vague
anywhere-else-but-here place where her brief past
could be erased and all the potential her teachers had,
for years, claimed she was wasting, would be realized,
where she would finally hear her life’s calling
calling her into the life she was meant to have.
The world, she thought, is my oyster.
Of course, being an inland girl, she had never
actually seen an oyster up close. Had yet to discover
how hard the damn things were to crack.
Copyright © 2018 Grace Bauer. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
we let our hair down. It wasn't so much that we worried about what people thought or about keeping it real but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool sooner or later. Probably sooner. Probably even before we got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school. Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old. Or like Mr. Lurk who told us all the time how it's never too late to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we could win everything for the team and hear the band strike up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story. We had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die and go to hell. Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon. With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks