That Winter Afternoon by Michael Gushue

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In the third grade, I sat in the last row.
Chalk dust whisper down the slate blackboard.
The radiators hammered like anvils
throughout the morning. In the distance
pile drivers pounded creosote poles
into frozen ground; the frigid air throbbed
with each blow. Blackbirds chirked and shook snow
clods from firs and poplars. Cars hissed through
streets of slush and runoff as shovels scraped hard
at the gritty sidewalks. The wall clock clicked seconds.

After the last bell’s clatter, we went in pairs
to the cloakroom, shoved our arms down
our jackets’ damp corduroy sleeves
and tugged galoshes over our wool socks.
We walked in rows down the dim-lit hallway,
a tunnel where the floor’s sheen had the blur
of dull ice. Outside, the school’s frosted-over
bricks released us from school towards home.

I climbed over ragged hills of exhaust-gray
snow bulldozed in mounds at street corners,
squinted against the bright sting of the clouds’
slate-colored light. A cold wind stole into my coat.
Frigid water flooded the crosswalks and leached
through my shoes. I reached home, the door unlocked.

The downstairs was still. The blinds and shades
were drawn but ice glare leaked in from the air
outside, and dust motes hung, suspended.
Quietly, I walked up to our second floor.
In the hallway, the weak bulb dulled the gold
and white swirl of patterned wallpaper.
The worn carpet muffled my steps as I slid
past my room to the corridors’ end. Where
I found her empty bed behind the door.

Michael Gushue is co-founder of the DC-based nanopress Poetry Mutual Press. He curated the BAWA poetry reading series in the Brookland and Capitol Hill neighborhoods of DC, and wrote the Vrzhu Press Poetry & Arts blog, Bullets of Love. His books are Pachinko Mouth (Plan B Press), Conrad (Silver Spoon Press), Gathering Down Women (Pudding House Press), and—in collaboration with CL Bledsoe—I Never Promised You A Sea Monkey (Pretzelcoatl Press). He lives in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Image: Txllxt TxllxT, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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