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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Following a Lighter Vein

“Is he dangerous?” I wondered aloud. “Or just

     not too bright?”

Marchenkoff spoke without looking up.

“Stupid people

     are always dangerous. His passionate sincerity brands him as

     one of the worst.”

“And you,” Nancy asked, head close to his,

     shoulders almost touching,

     “do you lack all conviction?”

He colored. “Touché. There’s no way to answer that

     without bragging. Either I’m one of the best, or

     I have conviction.” He did not move away,

     nor look at her.

Now she blushed. “I didn’t mean to lay a trap.”

     A slight gap opened

     between their shoulders.

“What are they talking about?” Farley asked me.

I shrugged. “They’re taking an English class. No one

     can understand them

               anymore.”

Marchenkoff looked at me and smiled

     the way he smiled, a sudden flash.

I wondered how that smile would feel

     against my palm,

     against my lips.

“It’s Yeats,” he said.

     “It’s a poem. I’ll show you later.”

He’d show me later. It was like

     a secret hoard of chocolate.

Farley nudged George. “I hadn’t realized

     you were such a moral guy.”

George shrugged.

     “What, money and morals don’t mix, is that it?”

Farley looked abashed.

“It’s okay,” George said.

Marchenkoff, on his feet, put his hand on George’s shoulder.

“You have to realize, folks,

     that under this—what is this shirt, George?”

Nancy leaned across the table, felt the collar

     between thumb and finger.

     “Two-hundred count percale Egyptian cotton.”

“Right. Under this two-hundred count Egyptian

     cotton shirt beats a heart as pure and true

     as any at this table, with a

     political conscience to match.” He sat down.

George, face buried in his hands, groaned.

“Wow,” said Nelson. “What about me?

     Do I get a speech too?”

“Sure,” said Marchenkoff, getting up again.

“And further, as I’m sure you’re all aware, under this—

this worn, plaid flannel, there beats

another heart, also as pure and true—

“And noble,” Nelson prompted.

“—and noble as any—”

“And pure,” said Nelson. “Did you say pure?”

“I said pure,” said Marchenkoff, tightening his grip.

“And high-minded? Ow. I always wanted someone to call me

     high-minded. Ow!”

“Hold still. Stop laughing.”

“I can’t!”

Marchenkoff cuffed him and let go.

“You can’t have a heart that’s high-minded,

     can you?” I asked.

“Why not?” Nelson returned. “Are you

trying to obstruct these proceedings?

Cease and desist, woman! Proceed,

Marchenkoff.”

But Marchenkoff was picking up his tray.

“You’ll have to be eulogized

some other time, Nelson. I’m going

to chem lab.”

“Me too,” I said, scooping up books and tray.

“Too much work to be done.” But rushing

     to be near him, I was distracted by talk

               about him.

“He’s twenty-one, you know,” said Nelson to George.

“Really?”

“Yeah. He had to work

for two or three years to save money

for school.”

“Wow. His old man couldn’t

     cough up the dough, huh?”

“Couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

I hurried off, drawn by mystery and

               romance.

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