Thursday, April 22, 2010

21/30 "Scarlet Letter" by Gus Wood

It was standard alumni dinner shit.
Boredom balloons and nutcracker
Christmas, finger food piled
high on paper plates.
Jingle Bell Rock raping
the sound system.
Everybody in there was praying
for a fire,
for a riot,
for a phone call screaming for them
to come home, to the hospital,
to anywhere but this dreary dinner party.

Christmas sweaters strangled
everyone's confection-stretched necks,
the punch bowl coagulated into pink hued
swirls with a smell as strong as gasoline.
The English department haunts the open bar
like Hamlet's father, trading paper cups
of something strong, drinking themselves
into their most convincing impressions
of Edgar Allen Poe.
They slur swear words and lamentations
on how no one will publish their next novel.

The math teachers count the milliseconds
counting down to when it's ok to leave this place.
It's all mistletoe and white-green
exasperation until...

Red lightning strikes the room.
Red lipstick, a red dress,
all of the sudden snapping into
firecracker tint.
Slit up the thighs and cut low...
The teachers tell us they can still hear
the sparks popping when it happened.

When He walked in.

Mr. Pierre, all quiet, timid substitute teacher,
had a high voice the freshmen laughed at,
and a sense of style the seniors could bow to.
With his black shoulder-length hair,
impeccably permed always,
he could lecture in lieu of a math teacher
and you could almost hear Tejano
as his tongue tangoed with each word
dipping on its way out...
this was way out.

Mr. Pierre,
in his red dress,
and high heels,
walking taller than most of the girls.
Every shimmy of his hips
was a gorilla slap against his chest
and a lion shout:
"Say something motherfucker,
I dare you.

"I've filed these fire-engine acrylics
to better make my point.
To better draw out your blood.
To turn tonight into a story you can't
tell the classroom.
So say something."

But of course, we quiet upper class sat there,
tightly folding the wardrobes we won't dare
display, shutting our own red dresses in their drawer
to be cut down by the sharp creases of business suit

That night, at that moment, everyone's souls
cheered for Mr. Pierre.
This drag queen dragging our dreams out
into the light.
His dress became a victory flag,
a firebomb in a china shop scattering shards of
sharpened gossip across the floor.
They stuck in the skin as everyone walked to their cars.

Sticking deep, drawing blood,
bright crimson dripping,
a reminder of the man daring enough
to drape a dream over a substitute teacher
turn him into a flag, a declaration of war.

So pull your dress out of your closet,
strap on your best pair of heels,
and walk tall.

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