How Not to Spell Gymnasium

As for the rest, they spat consonants and vowels
in correct order while I was in the john
and so not around when the Bs were called,
my phonological bowels a reproach to thoughts
of metalinguistic glory. I wanted an easy one:
Diarrhea: d-i-a-r-r-h-e-a. Diarrhea.
Like all of my life to come, I wanted
what I wanted and got what I was handed
instead. Most children like language—
they breathe near-painful meaning, kids,
and they look you dead in the eyes
until they forget—as I did—or look away
and dash to error. Shame. For the rest
of my life I’d recall what being in a hurry
gets you: asked to have a seat at a desk
of carved-and-initialed mutable moments.
All right, so I spat a j first fucking thing
and had to play-act at being glad for others
while being taught a valuable lesson: not
to be looking at Shelley Staddon’s budding
breasts; as if I could stop myself, as if, like Jesus
who, on the Cross, learned about phonemes
blending and segmenting—what’s the Aramaic
for sacrifice—and that loss decants too easily
from us, like Jesus, like that j instead of g,
spewed while thinking of acrobatic c-l-o-u-d-s
above the gray-shiny slide and a Jungle Jim—
there was that resurrectionist of a j, which
had tricked me into thinking there is no trick,
that once you understand the future has breasts—
Breasts: b-r-e-a-s-t-s—you watch your step down
from Rolling Fields Elementary School’s stage
past what is beyond words, thinking you know
a way to move through the life you’re given.

for Al Maginnes

Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley has received fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include “Boy in a Boat” (University of Alabama), “Any One Man” (Bottom Dog), “The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana” (White Pine), and “Starlight Taxi” (Lynx House). He’s taught creative writing and composition at universities and colleges throughout the Midwest and in Florida. These days, he teaches for Georgian Court University in New Jersey and lives near the Jersey Shore.