Thursday, August 28, 2008

Second Skin

Here’s a poem about a lying kid. Since I have been known to make up some whoppers in my day, I have always felt a certain kinship with this poem.

by Theodore Deppe

It’s not true that the tornado stripped Billy’s father
before it hurled him to the quarry,

nor that his mother rode the same wind two miles
and was set down, alive, in a field of sprouting corn,

but this is what he told our fifth grade class.
Students raised their hands for details

and, as if he were the teacher, Billy called on us,
explained how firemen split he dress to treat

the countless wounds and found the storm had sealed
each cut with a second skin of weeds and rubbish.

For one day, until Miss Clemency phoned
his baffled father, Billy’s family was lifted

into neighborhood legend. And when she made him
admit his lies, when the red-faced truth

stood before our class with its nose pressed
to a little circle on the chalkboard,

I learned how the storyteller, when the teacher
turns her back, can wink at the audience,

then mime for the pure hell of it
the whirlwind and his mother’s flight.

For whatever reason, whenever I read this I just laugh and picture a younger version of myself as the kid in front of his classroom telling his classmates a wonderfully amazing lie. I guess that means something, though I’m not sure what.

First the kid invents this story about his parents and a tornado. Then he tells it so convincingly that his classmates not only believe him but they go home and tell their parents. But the topper has to be the image of the kid miming, “for the pure hell of it,” his mother’s flight through the air. I’m sure that this is going to be very popular throughout school, and probably grow up to be a game show host or a politician.

What makes this poem work is the completeness of the picture of the kid. Imagery is always something that I appreciate more than anything else in contemporary poetry, and this is a perfect example.

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