If not Princess, then Warden
Things start off well: I’m the warden and no one’s writing on the walls in shit. I encourage all inmates to grow a mustache like mine, a bit of sculpted punctuation curling beneath the nose, directing the reader of the face downward to the lips. With them, and to the fellow in the mirror, I say, “my sweat unbreakable you,” helplessly using the word “sweat” instead of “sweet,” the way a high-school girlfriend did once in a letter, writing “Sweatheart, are we still going to the jamboree?” We were not going to the jamboree, anymore, Sally Garrett. This morning, out by the smokestacks before school, Lisa Shields pulled a bent cigarette out of the left cup of her bra before fishing for her father’s Zippo lighter amidst the rubble of an ancient civilization forgotten in the chaos of a giant orange purse. I peek into the purse, around the rotating axletree of Lisa’s searching arm, past the anthropologists dusting for fingerprints on a greasy tube of lipstick, and see a scene from the future reflected in a silver hand mirror: my English teacher, Mrs. Little, sitting on her desk while she explains how it wasn’t her intention to pigeonhole me as a poor student, except instead of the word “pigeonhole,” which I know she means to use, she keeps saying “cornhole,” not recognizing her mistake: “I never meant to cornhole you,” she says, again and again, “It was not my intention to cornhole you,” until I am dizzy, and when her black Mary Jane drops from her left foot to the classroom floor, where it will never move again unless someone picks it up and runs with it, I pick it up and run. For twenty years I have kept this shoe incarcerated, in solitary confinement, in the deepest level of the prison. These days, when I fear a riot—shivs like needlefish in toilet after toilet, the shrieks of the pigeonholed bursting from the prison library—I descend the steps to take my visitation with the shoe, but try as I might, I cannot make it fit my dick. And it’s always at this moment that, standing close to me, before school, Lisa glances down at the ill-fitting shoe, then lights her father’s Zippo with a pop which also seems to bring to life a chainsaw somewhere in the subdivision behind us. “It seems you’re not Cinderella, after all,” she will go on to say to me, in the shadow of the smokestacks. But until she does, I stand there, preparing myself to believe her, thinking of the jamboree, Sweetheart, and planning the cruel mustache of the future.
Josh Bell is the author of No Planets Strike and is Briggs Copeland Lecturer on English at Harvard University.
You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at email@example.com.