a SELECTED POEM from Approaching shore RON THOMAS WRITER
LEARNING THE TABLES Ron Thomas Writer
When I was eight, I used to lie in bed and frighten myself: what if my mind stopped thinking, got erased like problems from a blackboard. I concentrated on multiplication tables just in case. That same year I saw Mrs. Drendell coming out of a bathroom in the park, her skirt pulled high, and the sleek brown of her nylons stopped at a border of soft white skin. She was snapping her garter on to her stocking. My body tingled like high piano keys. The world a mystery, high piano keys, the Eucharist; the Eucharist couldn’t touch your teeth. What did God have against teeth? I wondered until my gums hurt. Sister Julia from catechism only showed her hands and face. Did she wear a garter belt? One day I peed on the olive tree. I confessed: Bless me, father, I peed on the olive tree. How many times, son? Only once, but it took a long time. Be careful where you go to the bathroom, son. Flies can spread disease. At home I blasted the base of the olive tree with a garden hose. I noticed olives were black like sin. I became suspicious of flies. My grandfather gave me a present, a fountain pen covered with numbers. Twist the pen and the numbers rotated, line up two times two and the answer four would appear in a little plastic window. I climbed into a California pepper tree, leaves draped green and thick and the bark soft and friendly like fur over the spine of Smitty, our collie. Sister Julia said Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes. A breeze whispered up the skirts of the pepper tree. I could change twelve times twelve into a hundred and forty-four. I felt a little holy.
Ron Thomas Writer
Ron Thomas Writer