When 213b finally opens in a crack of yellow linoleum, Garrett comes out with the left side of his afro as flat as the tire that used to be on his mom’s car & the stuck snick of the cheap door locking behind him sounds exactly like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter. Carriage House East, where menthols cough like a window slamming shut & outside that window, somebody’s radio is already popping static. What’s left of the moon is popping white on blue. That’s when we stamp past the squat HUD brick toward school in the dark: shadow of the green trash can gang signed with misspellings, a mimeograph of Mickey Mouse flipping Iran the bird in the landlord’s lit window. We made the same middle-finger motion to the school bus before ignoring our bus stop & kept walking neighborhood- style—right hands skimming from chest down to waist then behind the back like a bad breast-stroker cupping air. Cue the sirens snagging the matted air like a cheap pick. Cue the smoker’s cough of early-morning walks to school. We strutted a backward lean like every one of the unconcerned streetlamps alternating between our side of the street & over there—in front of the fenced-in porches missing slats like teeth in a punched smile where Garrett’s cousin leaned against the side of one of the front buildings. She put two-fingered guns to her temples when she saw us: red patch of smoker’s skin around her mouth like a raw sun rising.
The first Space Shuttle launch got delayed until
Sunday, so we had to watch the Shuttle’s return
to Earth in class instead—PS113’s paunchy black
& white rolled in, the antennae on top adjusted
sideways & down for better reception. That same
day, Garrett stole my new pencil box. That same
day, Cynthia peed her jeans instead of going
to the bathroom & letting Garrett steal her pencil
box. Both of us too upset to answer questions about
space flight, so we get sent to the back of the class.
I smelled like the kind of shame that starts a fight
on a Tuesday afternoon. Cynthia smelled like pee
& every-day Jordache. The shuttle made its slick way
back to Earth, peeling clouds from the monochromatic
sky & we all—even the astronomically marginal—
were winners. American, because a few days before,
a failed songwriter put a bullet in the President
in the name of Jodie Foster. The shuttle looked
like a bullet, only with wings & a cockpit, & when
it finally landed, the class broke into applause
& the teacher snatched a thinning American flag
from the corner, waved it back & forth in honor
of our wounded President & those astronauts.