Borrowing Milky-White for the St. Paul's Student Production of Into the Woods

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 18 2000 3:00 AM

Borrowing Milky-White for the St. Paul's Student Production of Into the Woods

The life-size papier-mâché
cow is laughable when it moves
because its legs don't. Stiffly, it rolls away
on the four swivel-wheels it has for hooves.

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The wheels are unbuffed metal,
which makes the prop obstreperously rattle
across the porous parking lot.
We wince. We're "rustling cattle."

But in the van, with its superior
vantage, there's no hurry.
Your school. Your afternoon. You ease us out,
busily gesturing at sites—
the Bulfinch building, the antiseptic dorms
where you endured third and fourth forms,
the dining hall, the stadium, the stagnant
pond that always stank, the cemetery
where your friends took dramatic black-and-whites,
the dean who'd been spectacularly pregnant
walking with her son.

When you came through two years before,
you wanted to spend an hour revisiting
these vistas. Jesse saw a record store
and asked to be picked up when you were done.

You thank me for not being him, eliciting
a half-smile—a quarter-smile
really. It ends with my profile.
I can't countenance that guy just yet.
Justice relaxed its standards when he won
admission to the years before we met.
Now he'll always inhabit them. His face is
in their doorframes and shoeboxes. His drool
is in the fibers of their pillowcases.

Memory is such a safety school.
Anyone can get in. Anything:
Jesse, some mossy headstones, a fake cow,
event and unevent, and now
the memory of you remembering
Andover, not wanting it again
exactly, but in the inexact way we want
most things—
inexactly the way we want them to have been.

Eric McHenry is the author of Potscrubber Lullabies, which received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He teaches at Washburn University.