In Junior High, after years of wearing school clothes to gym—which only happened once a week—my classmates and I were each issued the garment of adolescence I’d admired on so many older kids: a t-shirt in our school colors (blue and white) with the name of the school, a crude drawing of our mascot, the “Lancer,” and a blank white stripe on which we were meant to write our own names in marker. My mom, to my deep chagrin, had already besmirched my shirt with big, neat magic marker letters. Along with the shirt, each student received a matching, fairly brief pair of shorts with fat white piping and another white identification stripe, which, if you were cool, remained that way for at least a week before the gym teachers came down on you.
Further evidence of ascension into a new world—gym happened every day and we changed into the new clothes in a locker room.
I felt excited about the standard-issue clothes and the locker room, but when we all lined up in the cavernous gym for stretching, the floor painted and taped into a byzantine snarl, what I noticed was the shorts. Or rather the legs. The legs on Carol McKinley touching her toes in front of me, and her shorts, too, really. The muscular legs on some guys, the surprising, almost painful-looking tree root gaunt of some others. And I was shocked by hairiness. It’s not like I’d never been to the beach, but somehow with all of us in school, wearing the same shorts, the contrast was breathtaking.
The hairy guys mostly weren’t the types I’d seen at the beach, anyway. And that included my new buddy Ken, a short, dark-haired studious boy who would introduce me to Monty Python and, eventually, not caring too much what other kids thought. Ken would not be relying on his body to carry him through life—he threw “like a girl,” for instance, a grave sin in my circle—but his legs looked like a man’s legs. Still, he was nearly a foot shorter than me, and when the gym teachers dragged out a bunch of ancient, musty floor mats early in the year for a wrestling tutorial and I was matched up with Ken, I figured this played in my favor. His shortness seemed like an advantage, and since we were learning the wrestling style where one guy gets down on all fours while the other kneels to the side, arms encircling the opponent’s middle, my vague fear of ridicule was reduced by his friendship.
My calculation about the ridicule proved true. While I heard the snarky comments of tougher boys, they were too busy with their own fears or dominations to notice my shiny legs or compromised position, and Ken had the maturity of a college kid. I figured I’d be gentle with good old Ken. I figured this just before a gym teacher blew the whistle when Ken grabbed my arm from around his waist and pulled and rolled or something that supplied me with a fine view of the gym’s high ceiling where the climbing ropes dangled between ductwork.
When we changed positions, I tried his maneuver and it was like pulling an anchored statue. When we got up to try the standing grapple, my little friend picked me up off my feet and knocked the wind out of me when we slammed onto the mat. He pushed up his glasses and said he was sorry. He was kind enough never to bring up the wrestling, as it might have threatened the basis of our relationship—that he was the smart one and I was his slightly more athletic, hopefully cooler, counterpart. He kindly let me return to this belief. He let me feel tougher than somebody.
After a stupidly long northern winter, we’re busting out the shorts. This first week of May, we’re running quick-strike pieces that wound and/or heal in an economy of space. “Hong Kong,” flash prose by Uzodinma Okehi, kicks off this issue with the intersection of imagination and reality, how the artistic process connects us to and separates us from both. Glen Armstrong’s poem, “A Place Under the Bed,” turns an eye to the small, often-unobserved spaces of our lives, the way they quietly tell our stories. “Tritina Fifteen,” a collaborative poem by Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert, plays joyful games with language and technical form and retains a deep human resonance. You’ll find yourself transformed by Brendan Carrick’s lovely tangle of a poem “Molt,” a rich canvas of texture and vivid image. The hope of summer and its attendant sense of wonder sounds its beautiful way through “Why the Frogs Croak,” a poem by Geordie Edel. This brief issue rounds out with Alex Pruteanu’s flash fiction, “A Carton of Kent and a Bottle of Johnnie Walker Red,” in which you’ll find unforgettable imagery and a reminder of how history and memory accordion in and out of our strange lives.
Photo By: Philippe Put