I wanted to break free, escape bloody class
war between the Socials and the Burnouts,
and the lockstep of my three older sisters
and their colorful reputations, in search
of an educational experience all my own.
I chose vocational school, the only choice left
for a poor kid with a sick mother on the dole.
We were the Cos-9s, those Cosmetology Girls:
me and Sherry—the white—and you Bridget,
Glasses Pauline, Big Stephanie, and Aleene
with the yellow eyes—the black—meant to stay
together for every class, every day, until the day
I tested into higher math and fell out of favor
for falling out of lockstep with the rest of you.
We managed, didn’t we, Bridge, until English and I
put To Kill a Mockingbird above the glorious rebellion
of Cos-9s, when you all stormed the principal’s office
to demand NO detention for talking too much
during silent reading time. You never knew that time—
the only time to read in the chaos of my life—I felt closer
to the bright blackness of you than I had ever felt before.
Atticus Finch was in mid-summation, defending against
the bigoted system, when you marched back in and began
your campaign of pain against my defiance of your defiance,
and then, against the Civics teacher foolish enough to share
her professional defiance of a picket line of a two-month strike,
once she had seen greater purpose in the eyes of students
who had nowhere else to go for the day, but school.
On that final day, when you all ran ahead of me, giggling,
clutching your Kodak Pocket Instamatic, and jumped me
from behind, and then forced me to my knees to apologize,
you never explained: Why? What for? How on earth?
So, I kneeled and apologized—for all of the ways life
and race separated us, all the times you saw me as other,
and mostly for my inability, despite all my eagerness,
to build even the smallest bridge between us.