Hull humanity

“Hey, here’s your sandwich,” I called across the lunchroom
to Caldwall, the kid we picked on.
He was fat and unathletic,
and we kept him in his place.

Right in style,
I threw the sandwich I had swiped from him. He reached,
and the waxed paper burst apart
against the lunchroom window.
A smear of mayonnaise streaked the glass,
a flap of bologna hung over the back of the desk,
a lettuce leaf and a tomato slice lay on the floor.
I smiled triumphantly,
the boys’ lunchroom laughed adoringly,
and then we heard Mr. Leonard’s voice.
He had stepped in without our noticing.

here is my sandwich.
Enjoy it.
May I see you out in the hall?”

“OH oh.”
“Naughty Sietze.”
“Now you’ll catch it.”
I was afraid.

In the hall,
Mr. Leonard said quietly,
“People throw food only at animals.”

“Yes, Mr. Leonard,” I said.
He did not need to tell me to go for
Mop, cloth, and soapy water.

From then on
Caldwall was different for me
and I was decent to him.

Once or twice later
I have felt as alienated as Caldwall must have then.
I can always find comfort
in how efficiently a waitress pours my coffee,
in how a check-out girl smiles as she makes change,
in how you, dear, ladle me a bowl of cheese soup

and wipe the inside of the rim
so that the line of yellow-green soup
will be sharp against the brown pottery,

and I remember that people throw food only to animals,
and I tell myself,
“Sietze, you’re not such a dog as you think you are.”

From Sietze’s Buning’s “Style and Class,” copyright the Middleburg Press, and reprinted here with their gracious permission.

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