62. Recess

“This kid don’t talk!”
Matthew Hines’ loud voice.
Boys gathered. In the schoolyard,
They’d been pitching James’ new ball–
Old socks his mom had bound
And wrapped with string.
Here, though,
Was a new boy.
They drew in.
“His folks is Crackers,
From the Mississippi. Croppers.
My dad says,” Matt claimed.
“That true?”
“You a Cracker?”
“An Okie?”
“Maybe you’re an Arkie.”

The boy stood silent, still.
His age was same as theirs,
Fourth grade.
His face, light and pink.
His eyes, blue.
Hair, white.
James thought, he’s not afraid:
He holds his ground.
“Can too talk!” shrilled a young one,
Who trailed Matt.
“It’s not like talking, though–
He makes a sound.
Sounds like a dog.”
Turning to the new boy,
Gleeful, Matthew said, “You bark?
You bark, Lint-head?”
They began to laugh,
And formed a circle,
Hopping, hooting, barking,
Roo! Roo!
James too, laughing,
Howling like a hound.
The boy’s baffled gaze
Dropped to their mouths.
“That right, Barker?” Matthew said.
In that moment,
James thought: he can’t hear.

From the midst of hoopla,
James fell mute.
None could beat James,
Riah always said,
When it came to stare and study.
The new boy’s eyes held
Focused on their mouths.
James decided,
I’ll find out.
The children yapped and jumped.
James stepped in front of Barker.
He said, loud and slow,
“Do–you–read–lips?”

Barker’s eyes snapped.
He did a strange thing–
Surprised, they cringed–
He raised his arm.
A hush. Did he
Have a rock? Then
Right hand, left hand,
Burst out, fingers flashing,
Gestures, motions,
Moving against nothing,
Against air,
Tips touched to each other,
Pausing briefly, hovering,
Darting out and in and past,
Butterflies before his chest.
Thin body did not stir;
Hands moved alone.
They watched a minute, stunned.

“You catch a fit?
Cast a spell on us?”
Matt frowned. Someone said,
“Could be a secret sign–
You know.
Injun stuff.” Those people
They feared greatly.
“It’s baby talk. You
Really in fourth grade?”
Recess over,
And no rock in sight,
They tired of this.
They drifted off. “No
Spells on me!” Matt called back
As he left,
Wriggling hands
And sticking out his tongue.

James hung on.
Barker’s fingers
Blazed for him on purpose,
So he believed–
All this flutter
Had a meaning. What?
One thing James could not bear:
Not to know!
So he stood, arms folded,
Out of pride,
Sagely nodding,
Trying to look wise.
Secret gestures?
James resolved to bluff.
He too stood his ground.
He did not budge.

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