The Only School on Strawberry Hill

Attackby Ronald Erling Nilson20 Apr 2014

The only school on Strawberry Hill
was where I learned to read and write -
between the railroad tracks and the convent -
in a crack just slightly smaller than the universe -
between the Pennsylvania Railroad and God.

I liked school - until first grade -
when told I didn't know how to add three plus four -
(and calculus was out of the question)
I believed, and something was lost -
never to be found again
between the Pennsylvania Railroad and God.

Nearby refineries made the sound of snakes -
hissing and rattling - valves and pipes -
bowels and sphincters - smokestacks
like rocket ships poised on launch pads -
their chemical clouds expanding overhead,
dropping poison geometry on the stick-ball game below.
Players knew nothing of the attack -
they believed the enemy
was half-way round the world - not
between the Pennsylvania Railroad and God.

In kindergarten I shit in my pants
on the way to school -
just as I got to the schoolyard -
just as the bell rang -
but went in anyway and
painfully eased into the chair -
like a condemned man -
soiled and anxiously awaiting the end.
The principal sent me home in shame -
but just the same relieved
to escape from
between the Pennsylvania Railroad and God.

Most of the teachers were kind -
doing no more harm than required by state law.
Others hid their pain like a dreaded disease -
or a child with belt marks on its soul -
waiting for the final bell -
and rushing home to safety -
away from the crack just
slightly smaller than the universe -
and the only school on Strawberry Hill
where I learned to read and write -
between the Pennsylvania Railroad and God.