The scholarship girl paces to school
along broken sidewalks.
No one has cleaned the war up yet.
She swings her Shakespeare
against the wool on her hip,
her homemade blues.
Because she is tall,
she will play Caesar.
She will be smaller when she grows up.
Cockroaches will do their part.
She will study nursing
and go down to the laundry at night.
First she will tip the door open,
then stretch to reach the chain.
The light will reflect from a thousand
shiny carapaces scuttling away,
shrinking like a skirt in hot water,
like lines forgotten suddenly.
But first there are rationed eggs,
and her sister calling Elephant eyes,
and scholarship girls quarantined
in one crowded classroom.
Caesar’s speeches will deflate
her one hot puff at a time
till she fits in anybody’s pocket:
the starchy white one of the Sister
who docks her bus fare
in fine for laddered stockings,
or mine, or even yours. Listen
for her nails scratching
against the fabric.
The poems of Lesley Wheeler have appeared in Southeast Review, AGNI, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, and other publications. She recently received an NEH fellowship to work on a scholarly book called Voiceprints: Sound and Performance in American Poetry from the 1920s to the Present. She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. (updated 10/2006)