“I go jogging at night,” mused Ian Sikora,
“and I see the cars with their steam rising stopped
at red lights, the people inside sealed off
from everything, and I think, What do these people live for?”
Ian drummed in an alternative band
called the Spoonbenders—his hands ached after a day
not gripping the sticks—although jazz was his true love;
“Rock and roll babysits your brain while
you’re doing something else,” he declared,
yet he alerted me first to the Smashing Pumpkins.
When classmates in Geology mocked
Paul Rice the ur-science nerd in his absence,
Ian vindicated him: “It’s important to have
that passion for something. Though I can’t say I share
his passion for science, or academics period”;
one of the same classmates, flaunting her 4.5 GPA
on a report card laden with Advanced Placement courses,
teased, “That’s more than Ian gets in a whole year,”
prompting from him a hearty but bashful laugh.
He raved over the catalog of the Berklee School of Music
in Boston, but soon foresaw it straining his family’s
savings, and resigned himself to Maryland.
I never bumped into him there—one of the atoms
in my Epicurean social universe at
Roosevelt, congregating from wherever by chance
into combinations we thought fixed then but lasting,
in the long run, for the twitch of an eyelid until
dispersing on disparate, capricious careers.
Sarino Suon perennially dressed
in plain Izod rugby shirts minutely
spattered with toothpaste: “When I brush,
I brush violently.” His father, Cambodian,
worked as a postal clerk like mine.
Fascinated by film, he nonetheless insisted
altruism inclined him to neurosurgery
despite unmeticulous cramming of
papers into his binder—“There’s a system in there.
I have no clue what it is, but there’s
a system.” Pensive, reticent aside
from his goofy wit, he one day told us,
“Everything I see makes me believe more and more
in G-d.” “So if I gouged my eye out
with this pen,” some smart-aleck heckled,
“that would make you believe more in G-d?”
“Yes!” In our maiden college semester,
his soul became born for a second time; “It’s very comforting”
was all he divulged of what spurred conversion.
We ruled the room’s front row that final high school year,
and during down time expounded on
books, movies, music; I brought in literary journals,
Ian shared a right-wing organ of opinion
he found who knows where called, of all things,
Heterodoxy, and a magazine he picked up
at Tower Records touting models suspended from
branches by leather straps with metal hooks sunk
into their flesh. He blew ten dollars on it “because
I knew it would stimulate such a reaction.”
Sarino glued his gaze to it. I wouldn’t look.
Maggie (short for Magdalena) Anders,
arrived from Poland three years before,
spoke flawless unaccented English and edited
a school newspaper section as I did.
She marked copy in the News Review office
the night at the end of junior year I
raced in and pitched my article on the bomb threat
that shut down school that day; as I clabbered
over ice by the lake on a Sunday
the following winter, Maggie emerged out of
nowhere, overtaking me from behind with her
nimble stride: “Hey, I just left you a message—
Ms. Pohl called and told me the President’s visiting
school tomorrow.” Clinton turned out a no-show,
and our journalism teacher would have only
remanded the class to the press corps as go-fers.
Something restrained me from inquiring
on late evenings arranging a forthcoming issue
if Maggie shared the blood as well as the name
of Wladyslaw Anders, commander
of the homeless Polish World War II army.
"The next I knew of her, twenty years later,
cancer’s closing curtain engulfed her,
stealing her from husband and toddler daughter."
As we in the back of AP Psychology
babbled about what we all at that age babble
about when hardly any of us
have something to say, Toi Perkins,
with gentle genial smile unchanging,
shrugged and said, “I’m one of those people
who’s like a nun until she gets married.”
You’d never tell she possessed the school’s
preeminent flair for acting—she played her caped captive
Queen Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with a proud, foxy prowl—although maybe
her very mildness of mien imbued each move
with aristocratic bravado. Sable-skinned,
she bragged that her friend Craig Halper named her
an “honorary Jew” and savored the way
his New Yorker mother called his father Martin “Mawt.”
At graduation, the principal apprised us
Toi won a journeyman year at Oxford to further
her craft of assuming invented selves.
The next I knew of her, twenty years later,
cancer’s closing curtain engulfed her,
stealing her from husband and toddler daughter.
Audrey Morris’s company two seats ahead
sweetened the drear of Pre-Calculus—tall and pale
with loose, deceptively wavy chocolate mane,
features so soft they seemed not quite
fully formed, freckles melting into a faint
orange-brown scrim on her skin. Her drawings
graced the halls and the literary magazine:
portraits haptic and articulated but
with some foreshortening slightly flubbed, trompe l’oeil tableaus
of the tender circumvolving of rosebuds spun into
snails’ hollow, bony whelks. A folk musician to boot,
Audrey filled the auditorium with
a voice as long and whispery as her frame.
And senior year she began to write
poems and stories in lambent, plangent style—
striking a melancholy yet Rimbaldian note,
“At seventeen the poet believes there’s little
left to be seen”; commencing an adolescent’s
silent plaint to her mother while driving,
“I hate stoplights. The tension is worst at them …”
I’d see Audrey traipsing through school before
classes in beryl blouse and faded jeans
or ankle-reaching calico skirt with her longtime boyfriend
or the one who replaced him now
that he’d graduated, sitting cross-legged
on the hallway floor after the four-o’clock bell
sketching or strumming acoustic guitar.
She’d provide private exhibits of
freshly finished work, and any essay or poem
I carried I’d lend to her to peruse.
A few times we planned to survey each other’s oeuvres
at leisure, but something always caused her to cancel—
falling behind on a paper due soon, her brother rushed
to the hospital, her faulty memory.
When we last spoke, Audrey still didn’t know
her dorm’s address at art school in Baltimore;
she had my address and telephone number
but didn’t use them. I often thought of her
at the easel in those remodeled brick lofts,
taking pains to perfect her touch
of brush to canvas, nib to stock. Ages elapsing,
I found Audrey on Facebook using the married name
another alumnus gave me and sent her
a friend request never answered.
My locker neighbored that of Karl Pilato,
also an artist, in “the caves” under
the first central staircase’s lower flight.
Quiet but not unsocial—he always said “Hello”
and offered a “Sorry” or “That’s O.K.”
as we jostled each other and everyone else
packed into that alcove to change books and supplies—
serious but not ponderous,
he wore unostentatiously
the burgundy slacks of a teenage aesthete.
I didn’t really know him until a day
in November with shortened classes
for attending an afternoon football game;
my hall pass admitted me, though, to Ms. Farrell
my English teacher’s room, and Karl sat
at the desk nearest the door leafing through
a folio monograph on Emil Nolde.
“You like art?” he asked with a hint
of incredulity as I joined him
over the green faces and splotchy scenery.
He showed me a sketchbook entry:
his younger brother’s unclouded sleep in lines
so loving one would have thought they were drawn
by a father. Later came woodcuts—
dark, blocky, haunted—and the series
evoking living shapes in single curlicued bands
of black paint published in our last magazine.
Reunited in cyberspace, I discovered
his dynamic equilibria of prismatic
splashes and swirls, and that he learned
at the Massachusetts College of Art
when I lived two blocks up Mission Hill.
How many times had we missed each
other, boarding and hopping off of
the streetcar at Longwood station, or crossing
Huntington Avenue where his campus straddles it—
unwittingly shy of a welcome reminder
that no past we were part of departs from us for good?