High School Cafeteria

No way, man. Jean socks Andy,
my brother’s best friend, on the thigh.
I chose to come to this island
of white people. Just like I chose to listen
to Funkadelic this morning
and I choose not to dump you
and your comic collection.

But you didn’t choose to fall
in love with me
, my brother’s friend Andy says.
That was all me.

Jean scoffs. And I’d fall out
of love with you, too,
if I left it up to you.

I think I was into Jean
before I knew I was into girls.

Andy smiles and sinks
down an inch on the bench.
He finishes his milk
and picks at his vegetable beef.

Anyway, Jean continues.
I didn’t like Watertown
Junior High. Nothing was happening.
So I left.

How do you leave
a school system?
my brother says.

It wasn’t easy. I wrote letters
to the state Superintendent.
He told me to come back
after I convinced the principal.

That sounds impossible, my brother laughs.

Two years.
I was almost in high school
anyway, so they said yes.

Tell them why they let you go,
Andy says.

Jean turns toward him.
They didn’t let me go.
Then she faces us.
I promised I’d play for the soccer
and the Math teams.

Oh yeah, my brother says.
How’d you do this year?

Math, we’re going to Regionals
next month. Soccer… we beat Needham,
which, I mean, does anyone even care
if we do anything else?

Everyone chuckles.

Do you really feel like that? I say.
Doesn’t Watertown have
your own rivals?

Who cares? It’s way more fun to play
for a team that wants you
than just the one where you were born.

The fifth period bell rings
and the whole room drains
out the double-doors. We’re almost swallowed
in the crowd when I see another black girl,
who’s in my Bio class, is staring
at Jean. I think her name is Chivonn.
The whole time we’re leaving
she stares at her. Finally, Jean turns
and back to look at her.

The girl crows, loud
as a real rooster. From behind her
someone else does it, too,
and suddenly there’s a group
of METCO kids, all crowing
while everyone tries
to ignore it, but they keep staring
at Jean,

not one of them blinking.

Added: January 4, 2013 | Last changed: October 25, 2016