There is a special kind of farewell reserved for those who stay put while others set out. We stand firm but quiet on the threshhold, part envy, part relief, part pride, watching what comes from us, what goes from us: you.
These last weeks we have wrestled for position: your fear and impatience against our irritation and loss. We cling, we shove, we write each other off, take hot offense. This might be a nest that must be soiled. We are all tired.
At graduation I will sit in the sun and squint. I will watch the podium and see another year in four-foot numbers nailed above the dignitaries, the people who don’t even know you, but who will shake your hand and hold out your diploma and you will smile.
I will hear your speeches, given and ungiven, speeches where you say how much we’ve meant to you, how you’re sorry for everything, how you’ve waited till now to tell us. Girl graduates will knock caps crooked, hugging each other.
I will hear those other speeches, too, speeches equally true, equally false where you look out over our rows and shout “We made it in spite of you bastards!” Bare-footed classmates will stand, fists in the air, cheering.
Here’s my speech to you, class of 2006. Here’s where I say how lovely it is, how cruel, to watch the mortar boards in air, falling, to walk toward the blue gowns lined up like the squares of a human sidewalk, looking for my handprint, my tiny initials.
The mark was so clear at the time, and I was so sure I put it there somewhere.
FORTIETH HIGH-SCHOOL REUNION by J. Kates for Bob Klein, et al. Strong winds have tumbled a funeral home skullcap Across Harvard Street. How easy it is To find emblems of mortality wherever we choose, If mortality is what
We’re looking for. All too often, in the evening, I’ve caught myself thumbing the obituaries And subtracting birth-years. In college magazines Our class notes march
Inexorably forward from the back pages Toward the table of contents. My pocket address-book Used to be filled with the scratched out trails Of migration,
But nowadays the moving finger presses delete when old friends fly off into electronic oblivion. It’s not a new history, nor is it uniquely ours, We who have gathered
Like a beleaguered battalion, to survey the ground won And tally comrades lost. We share our rations. Forty years ago, we eyed each other with questions, Who will go where?
What will you do with the rest of your life? The words Are what they always were. Only the answers Have changed. And we can find emblems of vitality Wherever we choose --
The black skullcap is not tumbling in a strong wind, It dances through a break in the traffic and swirls Safely onto an opposite sidewalk. Its smooth satin Luxuriates in the sun
And comes to light at the feet of a classmate So altered by the decades of our lives that we pass Daily on the street or sit back to back in a coffeeshop Ignorant of each other.
THERE'S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN by Bambi Good
On this icy, stormy afternoon when the mail does not arrive, I remember Mrs. Weigel’s fifth grade classroom where, bolted to the floor were one-size-fits-all chairs and matching desks with initials deeply incised, five rows across, seven seats to a row. All year I sat behind Mark, hair black as mine, wishing that he was as aware of me as I was of him, treasuring the day that he wrote for me on a piece of unlined paper the words to “We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money.”
We “did” the “Communication Unit” and learned the Postmaster’s Creed, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these carriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” the creed of the horsebacked mail carriers under Xeres I of Persia, not of the U.S.postal system at all.
We prepared for the apocalypse by lining up, two by two, boys with the boys and girls with the girls, to make our way slowly down the worn stone stairs to the basement of the old John D. Runkle School where we crouched, hands intertwined behind heads forcing our faces to the ground, maybe so we wouldn’t observe the impending horror.
“There’s nothing new under the sun,” Mrs. Weigel intoned as we studied the Babylonians, Marconi, Eli Whitney. Did that mean, I wondered, that typewriters were the same as the chisels used to carve pictographs in caves? Or, perhaps, that our television was like the smoke signals of the American Indians? Did that mean that Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish sticks had been frozen by our forebearers in the Ice Age or was it to make clear to us that we had no hope of ever creating anything new ourselves?
A ten-year old child, I thought that perhaps purple-permed, curly-haired, stooped Mrs. Weigel told us “There’s nothing new under the sun,” because she was not so new herself.