Why You Skipped Your 20-Year Reunion
You aspired to be captain
of the varsity Russian roulette team,
but you were disqualified for being an organism
on a specimen slide, pinned down
and unable to move. The Assistant Vice-President
of Student-Teacher Adversity
examined your contents, looked
for abnormalities and mutations, slapped a label
on you: “Hazardous,”
and filed you inside a sealed container.
Meanwhile, back at home, a thrice-married nun
patrolled the hallway every night and tried
to rifle through your dresser while you slept,
so you unscrewed the knobs.
She was sure she’d find some grass,
a dirty magazine, a book
but the only thing you hid there
was a rusty barbell weight you stole
from the school gym.
You didn’t want anyone to know
you were trying to get strong.
But everyone at school found out,
and for the senior prank,
you were nailed to the flagpole
with three rusty spikes:
two fat ones for your hands,
to pin you down,
a long sharp one for both feet,
just to show you.
When they thought you’d had enough,
they took you down,
shoved an antique book return card
into your shirt pocket.
It had a perforated binary code
that summed you up as either on or off.
If you return without it,
you’ll be charged a fine.
Like every other night, I gazed into the crevice of my room
that catches no reflection from the porchlight
or the moon outside, the corner behind the chair
where I drape my soiled lab coat, the corner
where I see no outlines in the dark.
But this time, as I stared until the black deepened,
I saw it spread out to engulf the room
and swallow up the orange glow of time
from the alarm clock on my nightstand
until the shapeless black began to shape itself.
At first, I only saw a skull,
that inert core of every face. But then
a more disturbing outline formed, a memory
so distant I would have thought it lost:
my father’s face – forever gray and lightless,
forever sharp, Germanic razorblade of chin and forehead,
bespectacled (like mine), and creased with rage,
his figure forming, grainy, hunched and crooked,
lumbering in a tattered lab coat smeared with blood.
I wanted to address him, say,
I never did know what you were.
I never saw you anywhere except like this.
And I have wondered if my mother made you up
to warn me. And I have feared that I, like you,
took shape from shadows on a sleepless night.
But the vision slipped back into dark, just as my father did
before I was old enough to speak to or imagine him at all.
And the clock beside me glowed
like the night-light my mother plugged into my wall
when I was five: an orange bulb behind a luminescent crucifix
that lit my room enough to give more definition
to the monsters I saw growing from the dark
but not enough to make them disappear.
R. S. Mengert lives in Tempe, Arizona, and teaches creative writing at Scottsdale Community College. He holds an MFA in poetry from Syracuse University. His work has appeared in Pensive, SurVision, Zymbol, Maintenant, Poetry is Dead, ABZ, The Café Review, Fjords, San Pedro River Review, and Enizagam.