Feb 1, 2011

Mission School, 1922: What She Remembered

Written by Joe Wilkins

Read by Phil Keeling

That for a winter’s share of months —
which felt then to her like years —
teacher shut the schoolhouse doors.

That one day sunlight dazzled the still snow-blue mountains.
That it was nearly freezing but for the light
it seemed the day was warm.

That she found digging in the creek bank with a dull axe
a frog frozen as a stone, not a beat left
in its still bright heart.

That even in the brace of April, on her way to school again,
the wind’s hard blade bit to the bloody quick
her old horse’s hocks and belly.

That one tight knot of ice at a time the creek
came unstuck. That all day it pulled and snapped —
like pine burls in a fire,
like gunshots for no reason in the night,
like the marrow bones mother Warman broke between her teeth.

That at recess the Warman boys would steal potatoes
and kisses, chase her until her head spun,
her good heart heaving with the burn and throb
of blood. How she loved it —

the three of them back of the clapboard school,
mineral smell of snowmelt and mountain,
lick of government grease down a still-warm potato.

How her own body warmed as the world warmed,
how like riding home in the whole-sky spill of spring rain
there was no clean line between her and it.

How finally it was rain, not snow.
How when the creek slid back into its channel they found both boys
tangled naked in the roots of a cottonwood, how on the flood grass
they laid them out like fish. How they were then their bodies,

how they were not their bodies,
how the hearts of boys do not freeze but fill.

How on the way to school she rode
by Mother Warman, wailing near cottonwoods,
notching her wrists and shoulders. How those May mornings
her old horse loved more than anything

the hearts of plum flowers. How teacher made the Crow girls wash
with lye their lousy hair. How they screamed. That for days after

their scalps were white as snow.