payload

By William Aarnes

circa 1959

Of course the class got giddy

that week in American History

when wasps kept wafting in

through the windows, big wasps

with bloated abdomens.

Two hot weeks

before finals and they would barely start

World War II – something their parents

held dear.  They were going to dwell

on the Depression – something else

their parents held dear.

Between classes

Mr. Grant would guide maybe two wasps

out with a broom.  The others bumped

along the top windowpanes or hovered

around the fluorescent lights,

sometimes drifting down to orbit

a student’s head.  “Best ignore them,”

Mr. Grant advised; “they’re indifferent

to us.”

The stock market fallen and dust

blowing through the cracks beneath farmers’ doors,

Mr. Grant asked the class to break into groups

to discuss how it feels when ruin comes.

Everyone in the room heard Roberta Johnson

joke that inevitable ruin came at night

in parked cars.

Then Jackie Devereaux’s giggle

became a terrified shriek.

The wasp

looked as large as the small thumb

it had lighted on. “Wave it off,”

Mr. Grant urged

but Donnie Boyd

slammed his notebook down

with a cry of “Payload!”

Grimacing.

Jackie shook the squashed body off.

Mr. Grant wrote her a washroom pass

and sent Roberta to find the janitor.

Donnie showed off the smear

on his page of doodled mushroom clouds:

“That’s how it feels when ruin comes.”

——————–

William Aarnes teaches at Furman University.  His poems have appeared recently in Kakalak, The Vocabula Review, and The Dirty Napkin.


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