125. Report Card Day

This tall
Cottonwood still
Had its leaves!
Sandy-pale, it
Leaned across “the river,”
Once a trickle,
Now a stiff cracked
Bed. School’d let
Out for summer.
Barker, James, sat
Crosslegged in
The shade.

          CARD YOUR
          I SEE I.
“No.”
James was cross, though
He had mostly
One’s. But in
Deportment, two–
Barker’s fault,
Kazoo–and two in
Elocution.
James signed:
          TALK FINE
          I? SAY POEMS
          CLEAR?
Barker made
A face:
          LIKE ROOSEVELT.
James punched Barker’s
Arm, and Barker
Smiled:
          CARD?
James
Tossed it down.

Scanning it,
Barker first looked
Eager–then did
Not. His lips
Flickered. His blue
Eyes grew withdrawn,
Dark.
Meanwhile James had
Snatched up Barker’s
Card. What
A wreck, he thought:
Four’s, five’s everywhere.
Failed arithmetic, reading,
Music. Did well
In Deportment–
At least Teacher
Likes him.
James felt proud now
Barker’d seen his
Card–two’s, not so
Bad.

Thoughtfully James
Stared at Barker’s grades.
He had not told
Barker of that
Day–that day
When James had stayed
In, spoke with Miss Nash.
All that week they’d
Drilled on their times
Tables–Barker, James–but
After all that,
Barker’d failed his
Test. James went
In at recess.
“Barker he can’t
Follow you,
Arithmetic,
Miss Nash. You talk
Fast and turn you
Back when you call
Problems–” at her
Face, he froze.

She’d looked at him
Squarely. “James,
I can’t write up
Every word I say.
Barker’s a nice
Boy, and he sits
Quiet, and he
Does the best he
Knows. What can I
Do? So let’s be
Kind.”
When she finished,
James had gone
Outside. But later,
In the far back
Of his mind,
He knew he’d not
Told her the whole
Truth.

Breeze in
Cottonwood was restless.
James took
Back his card.
Barker seemed
Obsessed now with his
Own. Couldn’t
Put it down.
He would read it,
Stare out toward
The river, read
Again. He held it,
Traced his printed
Name. He shook his
Head.
          STUPID
          I. THEY STUPID
          THEY.

Squirming
In discomfort,
James felt he must
Tell. If not
To Miss Nash, then
Now.
“Barker,” he said,
Keeping lips
Distinct, “one time
We were playing. And…
You were signing.
When you signed that
Message to our troops–” James
Faltered–“You signed
So fast, Barker….
I missed every
Word. Just
A blur…..
So fast look like
You’d take off and
Fly.”
          SORRY.
“No! Not
Sorry! No! But–
You slow down for
Me? Do you?
Barker, do you
Slow the signs for
Me?” James watched his
Friend’s face closely.

Then he sighed.
“Yes. You slow way
Down. You do just
Simple signs so
Even I can
See. I thought I
Done you favors,
But you done, for
Me. You can’t
Talk to me like you
Want. You change it–
Baby talk.”
Barker eyed him
Guardedly.
Shrugged.

Suddenly James
Started feeling
Dizzy. Feeling
Perilously dizzy, he
Sucked in his breath,
As if he felt
Just about to fall,
Make a grave
Mistake and give
Away a thing he someday
Might want back.
James said:
“You recall that
Times test?” Barker
Nodded. “Well,”
James said, “Here’s
The thing–
You know the times
Fours more fast than me.
You know the times
Fives more good than me.
And times eights and
Times nines, all the rest,
You know just as
Good. And just like
Me.”

Tattered sparrow
Swept through the sparse
Branches.
Sun had sunk down
Farther in the sky.
Still, they had till
Supper:
They played tag
Beneath the half-dead
Tree. Its leaves,
Famished, cringed
Against the heat.
James and Barker
Picked brown grass-clumps,
Built a stubby
Wall.
Cottonwood, pale
Castle with low
Shade:
They scratched out
A ditch and with
Imaginary water, made
Their moat.

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