"Me. A study in oatmeal"
Night kicks in the breaking sunrise as I turn onto Bryant
Avenue. A brick school unwraps its metal doors for the summer’s
unpromotable. Left behind. State exam failed. Children. I’ve memorized
the number of steps to my school. One hundred-eighty-nine. Seven a.m.
I am early. Take out my keys. Three women at the end of their evening’s
work, in a tangle of sprawl, languish on the hood of a nearby car.
Morning’s gorgeous technicolor. Clothing scant, lips penciled in navel
orange, six-inch pumps sharp as switch blades. Denizens from another universe.
I want to look at them as one does a new book. Sniff its ink. Turn its pages. Compare and contrast. Me. A study in oatmeal. Beige linen suit and tan running shoes.
I remember one Halloween, a costume I fashioned— tight skirt, fish nets, day-glo beads. Pulled down my t-shirt. Made a V. Exposed my ten-year-old cleavage.
Pranced around the hallway in mama’s heels. Before my father slapped
my behind (as hard as he could), he called me daughter. Once called me queen.
Across the street, three men with a music box, playing last night’s
rhythms for their three ladies. Hold up the night’s treasure. Green
bills rolled and bound with rubber bands. I count the steps to my school
building to the beat of their songs. One hundred twenty-six,
their eyes burn through their tinted lenses— at me. Nothing I can do
but walk as quick as I can. I grip my bag, strip my face of visible emotion.
One calls to me, Miss, Miss, hey. The open wing of a large vulture
tattooed on his biceps. No one else on this empty street. I imagine
how he might kill me. My students’ sad faces. Instead, he shouts, Bless you, ma’am. God blesses you. I wish him the same with a light step, a nod and a hundred more to go.
Roxanne Cardona was born in New York City of Puerto Rican heritage. She was a principal and educator in the South Bronx and is finishing up a manuscript based on her experiences. She has been published in One Art: A Journal of Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Pine Hills Review, Mason Street, Ethel Zine, Constellations, Commuter Lit, (where her poem “Raven” was chosen for poetry week) and elsewhere. Roxanne lives in New Jersey with her husband.