Volume 34, Number 2

Ghost Boy

They step out of rusted, crammed trailers
at Little Creek or Hanshaw Village,

the park as they would say,
where yellow buses trudge on slick winter roads,

often late, so that cheeks and mittenless hands turn pink,
ears sting as if just slapped, and by the time the bus arrives,

some have slogged through snow and slush,
sneaker feet now soaked, so the warmth of a bus

becomes a kind of blessing. Once at school,
they bolt and scream, push open heavy doors

to get inside where they’re scolded not to run or scream,
to stay in line, keep hands to themselves.

The line adjusts, snakes from cafeteria to hallway
as more busses pull in out front. Imagine:

sidling close to your sister, your brother, your friend,
comrades in the breakfast line. But if you were a certain boy—

fourth grade, hooded black sweatshirt to shadow half your face,
you’d saunter in, last in line. You’d barely lift your feet to walk,

as if you’ve managed to turn old while young, a ghost of yourself
that haunts these halls. And because your bus ran late again,

you’ve got ten minutes for cold breakfast on a styrofoam tray—
a small green apple, carton of milk, prepackaged Frosted Flakes.

When the bell rings, you take a few last bites, trash what’s left,
walk slowly toward a noisy hallway where, maybe,

in a secret language to yourself, you whisper,
kick a broken pencil and watch it ricochet off the wall,

and when other children recite the pledge to the flag,
you know this already: you’re not really there.

—Laura Tate