Flesh (title poem from my new chapbook Flesh)

Flesh

Back when everything was black and white
and even crayons had a voice
of politics and race,
art class should have been our favorite,
spoiled only by a teacher we students loathed:
her built-up shoe and leg brace emblems
of survival, her crutch a weapon
in her private war against expression
by children who wished to defy her demand:

“Make the heads the size of a grapefruit!”
Resulting in hydrocephalic figures
crowded together on rough sheets
of cheap art paper,
their bodies floating below
those cranial balloons
like kite tails made from arms and legs
and skeletal torsos.

Households of folks
with similar inflated features,
schoolyards of distended skulls at play,
toting along their appendages
like afterthoughts or unwanted offspring,
all colored from the same 48-crayon Crayola box,
all colored the same color: Flesh.

Even by the polite colored children
and the Garza’s, whose eyes were bright
Black, whose warm skin was close to Indian Red;
the only Indians we knew
were in TV westerns on Saturday night
and Saturday morning Andy’s Gang jungle flicks,
portrayed in light and dark
tones of gray by actors in pancake makeup;
even African tribesmen
carrying their fearsome spears
and shields were played by white men.

The Swede children—Anderson, Ericson,
Johnson, and Swanson—chose Periwinkle
or Cornflower for their eyes;
the German’s, David and Anne,
Prussian Blue or simple Brown.
The teacher frowned, her horn
rims’ glass glaring at children
who dared to choose Burnt Sienna
or Sepia to color the faces and arms and hands
of their bulging-mugged families.

When we were finished
small fingers smelled of paraffin
and the waxy colors were replaced
side-by-side back inside their boxes.
All around the chalk-dusted classroom
rectangles floated, taped against blackboards
and crowded with over-sized noggins,
their superfluous, atrophied bodies,
and even a school kid could see
that things were terribly out of proportion.

Flesh, the way it should have been