Reincarnation / I Hope I Never See You Again So Skinny And Mean
He comes back gaunt, nastier, with new tattoos
of numbers smudged on his temples and somehow
further sunken eyes. What war did he lose when he
was out? What did he run from, plummet back into?
Reincarnated into this life, again, he fattens up.
He stops using until, he doesn’t. He keeps
in his cheeks pills he’ll sell for Jordan’s.
He curses the principal over tucking his shirt,
and he handwrites definitions of words in my class
he’ll never use in any life he can imagine.
He’ll use pens as homemade pipes before he
uses any of these fucking words, he says.
And then he’ll pass one of my classes, get over
that kid shit, the games, he calls them, that he used
to play. He’ll tell the others to seriously, shut
the fuck up cuz he’s trying to graduate now. Mom
can’t wait for him to come home. He leaves
declaring he ain’t ever coming back to a place like
this. He thanks me. We shake. The rest gamble
over how many weeks before he’s back, gaunt
again, like a toad in a drought. His name reappears.
He’s back. He ran, he says, but they caught me.
I smile but I shake my head. I shake my head
and smile the way I do when I feel a little guilty,
with my lips closed over like a fence. I offer
all the words I know. He recognizes a few.
MICHAEL ZINKOWSKI is an English teacher in a high school inside a youth correctional facility in Oregon. He earned his MFA from UNC Greensboro and has been teaching ever since.