Mamihlapinatapai

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Poetry

Blue and tan pencil shavings in a close pile.

From the Yaghan, a word that denotes a look two people share, both wanting to initiate
something, but neither of them starting.

The right words, my teacher explains
_____come after you’ve written
_________the wrong ones. Perhaps this is why

I have no name for the sunlight
_____that spills like orange juice
_________across the classroom floor

or for the strange prickle I feel
_____when Marie walks to the sharpener
__________to whittle her graphite to a point

she can make in this in-class writing
_____assignment, to tell a story
__________about what we want to be

when we are grown, after these years
_____of school. Then, my options
__________limited to super spy or mill worker,

my father or a version of him,
_____moving between the dark shadows
__________of a world of single wides on limestone

streets, where passwords and checkpoints
_____were Doral cigarettes and a tip-back
__________of the head that meant, “What’s up?”

Now, Marie has passed me again
_____but not dropped a note or hint
__________that she’s seen my long gazes

or felt my certainty that one day,
_____she will look back at this moment
__________and know it was now—here,

in this place of knowledge,
_____she found in me a glossary of escape.
__________Her father the foreman. My father

the drunk. We are meant to be.
_____Seventh grade swells like a pimple
__________until we all burst out, infected

with dreams and certainties,
_____until we can all sharpen our pencils
__________to write the futures teachers

think an Oxford outline defines.
_____I take up my own Number Two
__________Berol Mirado and hover above

the blue-lined paper, imagine
_____words appearing like heat on invisible
__________ink, the message that would appear,

the secret of escape from here.
_____Someone throws a wad of paper
__________and Marie is looking away, the guilt

I seek on torn edge of her paper.
_____The way she does not look at me
__________is a clear sign all this is meant to be.


Photo by Roonz nl, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author

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Jeff Newberry‘s most recent book is How to Talk About the Dead (Red Hawk Publications) Find Jeff on Threads at jeffnewberry.