Saint Timothy’s School, 1975

Matthew Gellman

It is natural for us to want to be cradled

says the nun who clutches the fake toy baby

after rapping your open palm with a ruler

for being late to Home Economics.

You scuttle toward the back of the classroom

and cannot help but notice, mother, the dense

relief of the gray trees riddled with white sun

emptying each of snow. Your mind knows

how to carry you far, alert but sullen

in your household, half-asleep on your feet

as you spread jam and cheese onto bread

for your father, or sulking on your walks home,

asymmetrical whirr of light leaking out of the bars

that same light I passed in my twenties,

upstate New York, summer fully turned on.

The night a green bottle hurtled past my ear

and smashed on the pavement in front of me

I’d just left a gay bar to smoke and watch dragonflies

sputter out in the cracks on the sidewalk.

I froze as the men drove off, murmuring

fag, accelerating into the blackness

as the beer-foam rivered out, collapsing

like the rhetoric of this performative era.

Our loneliness is a lineage heavy as a heatwave,

inevitable as a blizzard, and though

I rarely admit this, mother, that night

I’d have liked to be scooped by your hands,

hands that tied your hair tight for the journey

so you could endure the whoosh of cold

and the passing cars and the passing jeers

of the boys who rode inside them.

Shaking into myself this morning, I see

the grimness of swans on water,

hovering girls in a rectory, feathers

fastened to an ineffable wind.

I have never prayed at St. Timothy’s Cathedral

or stared at his face in edifice,

but according to the scripture

he was a timid, compassionate man.


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