Poetry and Prose from the Center for Writers
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* HONORABLE MENTION, POETRY *
by CLAUDIA SMITH
The dark spec inside Sister Marguerite's warts, discipline,
green snot, the brown flesh of an old apple.
There were rules and the universe was ruled
by them. Love, a red heart, a diagram
categorized as: God's, sweethearts, goodness,
beauty, such as Snow White's skin white as chalk.
Sipping coke when it fizzed, the taste of chalk,
boys peeing on the radiator, the word discipline,
words were cut outs, color-coded goodness
sharp and shameful as that red fat apple,
lost boys on milk cartons; sins diagrammed,
my grade-school laws understood, unquestioned, ruled
by those in charge of our mothers, ruled
across the dark green board in chalk,
the most holy trinity, diagrammed.
Still later, I ruled by self-discipline
such techniques as gobbling apple-cores,
biting off ragged hangnails, feigning goodness.
I still practice goodness, try at goodness
don’t sneer at it, recognizing how rules
at once protect and betray, and apples
taste better in the fall, as does air, chalk.
I am an arbiter of discipline;
dissect the beast, provide a diagram.
My son sleeps in his bad dreams, diagrams
angels. They live in droves and eat goodness,
he says. I can taste air, it takes discipline.
Do you know what discipline means? Rules.
We unfold Manila paper angels, chalk
the sidewalk, rendering our perfect apple.
One cold October I sliced an apple,
fed it to someone else, and diagrammed
a smashing red human heart in chalk.
There is nothing more frightening than goodness
eaten by a host of white angels, ruled
by the dark hooded lords of discipline.
He learned the bitten apple. Can’t be good.
We chalk the stars. We can diagram
the disciplined universe, with our ruler and broken chalk.
Claudia Smith’s stories have been published in several journals and anthologies. Her collections The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense Books respectively.