His mother had driven him to school so it wouldn’t get scratched on the bus.
It was heavy, but he’d carried it all the way to the classroom by himself, and now he was carefully explaining everything. The helmet rested on the desk beside him, freshly polished with the chamois he’d brought for that purpose, and gleaming.
But when he’d slipped the medieval cask over his head and closed the guard over the lower part of the face, they’d laughed.
“This is my beaver,” he announced. It hinged like a trapdoor over his nose and mouth, vented like a grill.
Their laughter was incomprehensible, muffled by the helmet.
“Is it because of this?” he asked, lifting the doorway then letting it clank shut. “Is my speech muffled by my beaver?”
The children roared. The boy’s tears came hot, quick, and hidden. He felt safe inside the helmet, but he was uncertain whether or not to be grateful for this protection, a protection owed exclusively to the oiled hinges of his beaver.
Careless and Lackadaisical
are two words I take as compliments
when they apply to the way I follow institutional rules
but not when they apply to any of my sincere attempts at lovemaking
based on methods I have mostly gleaned from reading certain periodicals.
You might well wonder why I would be inclined
to share the relationship I have with these two words
when it could possibly be construed as casting certain skills in an unflattering light
but I’m banking on the fact that you, too, have had moments
involving a length of garden hose and a remarkably slimming goatskin vest
and the repeated use of certain catch-phrases more commonly associated
with 19th century maritime culture in the whaling holes of Nova Scotia.
Postcards of Gratitude, From Your Teenager
1. To my Mother, Who told me “Not to spill”
Thank you so much for that verbal reminder
to not fling this shallow saucer of bean n’ ham
abruptly toward the ceiling in a spastic gesture
because I am a teenager and I am bat-shit crazy
and spilling is exactly what I was contemplating
as I carried this bowl across the plush white shag
so that I could enjoy a warm repast while watching
Alex Trebek read cue cards and wrinkle his slightly
smug yet nonetheless compassionate brow at the folly
of someone a lot smarter than him who just named
Zolá instead of Balzac and lost eight hundred dollars.
2. To My Father, Who told me “Don’t be an idiot”
Is the word thanksreally a big enough box to hold all this
gratitude I feel when I realize how close I came to being
an idiot? Whenever I wrestle with the urge to douse my
hair with kerosene or run wind sprints in the summer heat
after putting on nine sweaters and coating myself in a thick
layer of Vaseline, I hear your words echoing inside my head
like a very loud voice echoing inside a tiny head-sized cave,
and I stop and wipe the drool from my mouth and say,
Easy there, Hoss! and I pull the laminated card from my
pocket that you made for me and I read your words aloud
in a John Wayne-imitation voice and I think, Whoa, pardner!
3. To My Teacher, Who urged me to “Consider the future”
I have to admit, until you uttered those words
I never considered what I am doing RIGHT NOW
will eventually exist in the past and when it does,
then I am in the FUTURE. Hello! That thought
blew my mind the way the wind blows a plastic bag
across a field using only the tips of its invisible paws.
Since then I have started wearing my home-made
space suit to school, including the jet pack I made
by spray painting a lawnmower engine metallic silver
and duct-taping it to my backpack just in case
I encounter someone else from the future who
is stranded and needs me to give them a ride home.
4. To Step-Daddy Paul, Who said “Think before you act”
There I was, running down the interstate, naked
except for this sort-of sling I’d fashioned from tinfoil,
and no idea how I’d gotten there, a side-ache coming on
because God knows how long I’d been sprinting along
that white line, chanting poetry in this obscure language
I made up and that I only use when I’m feeling stressed.
Suddenly I thought: Hey, did you think before doing this?
Well, you can probably guess what the answer was!
So I quit running right then and sidled to the median
where I sat among the dusty gravel and felt the waves
of roiled air rock me back and forth as the trucks passed.
5. To the Person who wrote: “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear”
After the ninth time I somehow crumpled the hood
of that sedan parked at least forty meters behind me,
when I was pretending to parallel park in front of my
house, I was so mystified I thought to myself, Hey,
Dale Earnhardt, why don’t you check the rear-view
to see if it might have some sort of instructions
that could explain the weird discordance that occurs
whenever you put your go-cart into reverse. Shazam!
As soon as I discovered that useful phrase, I promptly
ripped the mirror from the car and ran to the mall
where I scoped out this really attractive older woman
and put my arm around her shoulder and held up
the mirror so that we were both reflected inside its
little frame and I read the words aloud and after a while
she quit struggling and laughed and now she is my wife.
Michael Bazzett’s poems have appeared in West Branch, Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets, Green Mountains Review, DIAGRAM, and Guernica, among others, and his work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. New poems are forthcoming in Carolina Quarterly, Pleiades, Smartish Pace and The Literary Review. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.