you are the warm silent space
that has been breathed
into the nook of my blanket
and two nights ago
i inhaled
and you coated my lungs

and you coated my lungs
and i wheezeled you out
with deep sighs
and shallow coughs
i inhaled
and lost your scent

and lost your scent
in the smell of fall
by the burn of twigs
and the waves of smoke
i inhaled
and i didn’t choke

and i didn’t choke
on the memory
of you in my bed
when you touched my hair
i inhaled
and then i awoke

and then i awoke
to an empty bed
and i closed my eyes
and wished you here
i inhaled & i inhaled & inhaled
but you did not appear


The boy in this picture

Everyone’s breath is icy. The kids are all smoking their invisible cigarettes and waiting for the bell to signal the end of lunch.
I am in the quad finishing the free lunch my school provides, pizza and chocolate milk.
Brrrrrrng. Brrrrrrrng.
“I don’t really want to go,” I tell Elaine.
“Oh, it’ll be fine, don’t worry.” I grab my purple Jansport and unwrap a Snickers bar on the way to fifth period. Elaine goes her way and I go mine, to English. This is the class I often escape by finding my way to the school’s health office.
“My stomach hurts, Mrs. Walsh. I think I have a fever,” I would say, making me known by the staff as the schools hypochondriac.
On this day I try to think up a story, or perhaps think I can find a way to choke on my Snickers bar at an opportune moment, but avoid it lest another fat joke be started about me.
On this day, as on every other day, I walk to class slowly to stay as far away from Jeff and Matt as long as possible because I know there will be trouble.
Three minutes to go: I find my way to a water fountain to rinse any peanuts and carmel that might be stuck in my teeth.
Two minutes to go: I circle another row of portables and wave at Mr. Mitchell in the chemistry room.
One minute to go: I walk to the door and riffle through my bag for an imaginary lost object.
I do not want to walk in, but realize that the bell will brrrrrrng me into the class at any moment anyway, and so I walk straight to my desk, on the farthest side of the room. I am convinced that if I continue to look forward and if my eyes do not meet theirs then they cannot see me.
I make it to my desk without a word from anyone and I know that looking away has done its job. I now know that it will be safe to slip my black binder from my bag and if I can just get it open to a blank lined page, then I will be safe. I will be safe if I can begin to write on this blank paper. If I can just get my pen out.
“So… tell me more about this boyfriend of yours? Did you bring a picture?” Matt is grinning sheepishly, waiting for me to stumble.
“Yeah, I said I would bring one didn’t I?” my voice is defensive and I grow more tense, but don’t immediately go for the picture, hoping that the last bell signaling the beginning of class will ring.
Brrrrrrrrrng. It does ring, it seems miraculous. I am not going to have to show him the picture and I am safe for another day. Then I realize that Mrs. Walsh is not in the classroom and so does he. Jeff who had been talking to Jessica, the most beautiful girl in school notices that Matt is over at my desk once the bell rings and comes to join the conversation.
“What’s up here?” he looks to Matt.
“Oh… Nicole says that she brought the picture of her boyfriend.
“Oooooh… where is it?”
“I don’t know. Where is it Nicole? I bet you didn’t even bring it, because you don’t haaaave one.”
I look at the door hoping that Mrs. Walsh will walk in, but see that since she’s not there I don’t have a choice. I open to the back of my binder where Keith is smiling and lit up in the blue button down shirt Dorothy had bought him especially for the school photo.
“That’s him! Yeah right!” Matt wrestles the photo from hands to get a better look.
Keith is a good looking kid. He has dark brown hair, blue eyes, and in this particular picture he’s got a set of braces.
“Do your braces get stuck together when you kiss?” I don’t have a real response, just a nod no, because I know if I talk I will either scream or cry or both.
Mrs. Walsh finally walks in minutes late for her own class and I want to know where she’s been. We all run to our seats as if nothing has happened and I am furious at them and at her for not being there to stop it.
“Mrs. Walsh? Mrs. Walsh?”
“Yes, Matt?”
“My mom said that it’s not okay to lie, why does Nicole think it’s okay to lie?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…,” he says as he slips a photo from beneath his binder, “this is a photo of a boy she says she’s dating.”
“And?” Mrs. Walsh doesn’t seem to understand his joke.
“And this isn’t her boyfriend. Just look at her!”
Laughter. The entire sixth grade class fills the small portable with booming laughter and Mrs. Walsh takes the picture from Jeff and hands it back to me. I take it and place it in the clear plastic sheeting on the front of my binder.
“It’s true! I swear it’s true! I’ll bring him with me one day.” My throat bubbles with mucus and tears and I want to cry, but don’t because I can’t let them see me crying.
I ask Mrs. Walsh for a bathroom pass and don’t come back until class is over.