Ridge Street, 1965

Thirteen and skinny, I didn’t get the Stones
that fall the songs turned dark and lovely,
and all the other kids knew how to dance.
Proud to be the youngest in my class,
with a new scar on my eyebrow, to show
I’d stand up, anyway, while being punched
I’d learned from Suzy Carson how to kiss
halfway to strangling on our tongues, and told
my friends, to watch them roll their eyes, grinning
funny, pinched-up grins. Still I missed the point
almost entirely, till that night
after Homecoming, when at her door
I said goodnight to Suzy with a peck
that gave the lie to all we’d found to do
clinched in the shadows outside the gym;
and Mom in our old Falcon drove me home
with my buddy Wayne, who’d stay the night
just so the two of us could wait our time
and sneak back out, six blocks or more, hiding
from headlights in the curfew-haunted streets,
to the alley window where our buddy Rob
waited with his flashlight and a plan
To crash the neighbors’ slumber party.

That year the girls could top Scheherezade
in fabling their own fathers. So overnight
for her birthday Patti Wheeler’s dad
had given her his giant fifth-wheel camper,
chocked in the weeds at the edge of their lot,
to fill with eighth-grade friends. Now they waited
with magazines, snacks, cards, stuffed animals,
a stereo, one set of jacks, perfume,
Kleenex, compacts and curler kits, all
gleaming in the light of many candles. Into
this chattering seraglio we arrived
like visiting celebrities, ninth-graders after all,
and takers of a vast dare, to have stolen out
at these amazing hours. We’d brought a beer
And passed it around, so everyone had a sip
Which only Linda Galles claimed to like,
then took a turn around the yard,
beneath the matchless moon, whispering
to faces pale and sudden in the dark.
And was it then? Or just a little later?
And how exactly? That Barbie Tyler with her
secret smile, her Beach Boys album,
her beginner’s breasts and all
the whippet grace of her small body
chose me, and I chose her? The words are gone
because it hardly took words then:
things happened by themselves, mysteriously,
the way your body grew, or grass came green,
the way a group of kids decided anything
without deciding, a cloud in any breeze.

Back in the camper someone made a game
of putting candles out, and voices
softened toward sleep. Patti had paired
With Rob, and Wayne with Donna Major, quietly,
as if they’d always known they would.
Barb and I called “dibs” on the overhang,
and a sleeping bag whose honest Dacron smell
mingled with shampoo, perfume, Juicy Fruit.
We practiced kissing first, dutiful as bees
with news of nearby poppies; then nestled down
in a kind of dreaming dance, neither knowing
quite what we meant—but something knew
how our unfinished bodies could become
so strangely what they were, fitting like
two halves of an exquisite vase, long broken,
now mended and annealing in night’s kiln,
till with the spell of our own breathing
we seemed two fabulous new creatures,
silken, electric, dangerous—
while in the moonlight, just the other side
of the cold window, the world we understood
shivered and began to die. What

She made of my alarm I’ll never know.
Wayne and Robbie took it well, grousing just a bit
as I nagged them up, and out, and home:
back through the deserted hours, the chilly streets,
dropping Rob off at his place,
just beginning to suspect what grief
I’d made for myself with Suzy;
continuing with Wayne on up the hill
past the church where next year, further
hardened by experience, we’d go Sunday nights
after prayer study, to try our luck with the girls;
on through fraternity row, where
the year before we stole homecoming decorations
and years later we would go to parties,
past the park where I’d smoke pot the first time,
and split my lip in a Friday-night scuffle,
Not knowing this, not knowing anything,
not guessing that the War then blowing in from Asia
would still be ours, to fight or refuse
—Back at last to my quiet house, where no light burned,
the door was still unlocked, and no angel
waved his sword before the gate, but nonetheless
there was no way back inside.

© 2002 John Kilgore

John Kilgore teaches literature and creative writing at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. He recently finished a long fantasy novel, RADIO ROGER, which is being represented to publishers by West Coast Literary Associates. He can be reached at cfjdk[AT]eiu.edu (replace [AT] with @).

For more of his work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.

BACK