From In a Car Going Nowhere
He bumps open the screened door to the carport and the spotted puppy stands and waggles around his boots, and it's a curious thing to the boy why the puppy just sat there when the pistol went off inside. In one hand Beebee is holding the keys to his mama's blue Buick, and in the other the pistol that made the little popping sound that created a big blood spurt between her eyes.
On his way to the car, parked hood-in trunk-out of the carport, he looks next door and sees Miss Frankie with her bleached hair in pink rollers and the children she keeps hovering round the picnic table where she is carving a jack-o-lantern from a huge grooved pumpkin. Bunch of nonsense! She stands straight and stares at Beebee, tugging her silky orange blouse down over her ballooned breasts and stomach. Her hag face poses a question. He pokes the pistol into the waist of his blue jeans and goes on walking till he gets to the car. Gets in, places the pistol on the seat, switches the car on, and backs down the dirt drive to the highway. The hard part, backing.
Of course, now that he has the car to drive to school, he can't go to school, and he doesn't know where he can go or when he can come back. And he feels sad driving past the old portwine-brick school with a train of yellow buses parked along the west fence, but glad that he doesn't have to go....
From Portfolio: Vietnam, 1996-97
Early morning tai chi, Hoam Kiem Lake, Hanoi.
Young Buddist novice with partly shaved head.
Snail gathers, West Lake, Hanoi
A bridge of lilacs crosses the brook
that runs out of childhood,
as if childhood were a spring and not
a thirst. Cold water, fast water,
ache of that cold, remembering.
That quenching. An outdoor museum—
that's my childhood. Lilacs so thick
you can hear the bees from far away.
Thick with scent, thick with bees,
all drowned in the noise of the brook.
What did I mean, "a bridge of lilacs"?
That their branches touched each other
over the water? That their dark perfume
could take me back—take me
and never bring me back?
The smallest classroom. Yellow walls, and the ceiling seemed too high. Boxes lined up in bright colors on the tables, each a different level. This class for retards? This a toony class? The kids swaggered and straggled through the door, unwilling. To be seen here. Laminated cards, one at a time. Second, third grade skills for fourteen-year-olds. Mostly boys. I'd been assigned to help the reading teacher. Her long gray hair bunched and slipping along with the hairpins and combs. She'd organize field trips. Took her own beat-up station wagon. Once she drove us up the coast to the Great Blue Herons' nesting grounds. We walked up and up until we could look straight down into the tops of the big trees. She showed us how to spot them, the saucers of nests resting in the branches.
I never got the kids to move beyond a level or two. Nobody stayed on task. Once I was pronouncing vowels with Lester Tims, light-skinned, freckled, a skinny little dude. O: okra, Oakland, Coke. And o: butter, supper, dove. His eyes shone. He was standing beside me. "Doves," he said. "We can talk about birds?" "Sure," I said, and told him about the finches I was raising at home in as big a cage as I could afford. "Man, why didn't you say you wanted us to talk about birds?" and he was out the door. Before the bell rang for the next class he was back. I was putting cards away in their boxes, red tipped ones in the red box, brown in brown, folding the lids closed. "You like pigeons?" he grinned. "I do, I do," I said. He unzipped his jacket. I don't know how many wings flapped out from him, ruffled my hair and fluttered all through that yellow room, a sound only feathers can make, as Lester told me every one of their names.