Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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     October, 1962

Drop, our teacher said, which was our cue,
chin to the clavicle, crown to the floor,
each child a box with a heart inside
we did not know enough to call a stranger.
For we were gifts addressed to god-knows-where,
and though the head of our president
hung above each class, he had the foreign
power that silence has when you ask
the sky a question. Can you blame a kid
if he confused the pledge of allegiance
with the Lord’s prayer. Which, I realized
later, had that part about forgiveness,
which I understood a little, and debt,
which I did not. Debt was a father-thing
like a backache or some vague remark
about a day at work. As for forgiveness,

I knew my father’s voice could take me down
an inch, his look another, my nation deep
into the basement where we prepared to live.
My father asked forgiveness now and then.
But my nation, what was that, and who.
Drop, my teacher said, when we were praised
for being small. If only I were smaller.
Zero minus zero. It made as much sense
as killing the dead, but we learned the answer
that day in October. We learned one nation
under God made God still smaller too.
Who then was it over the Russian children.
Us. Or God minus God, the zero in
his name opening our mouths to speak,
to release a little balloon of air
that dwindled into nothing as it flew.  end  

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