A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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That Day on the Hill

In the meantime, I struggled with

the periodic table and atomic theory.

As it turned out, I wasn’t that good at it. Nor could I muster

     real passion for the names of eras,

or rocks, though I tried.

Then on a field trip in April, Nelson slipped

and fell right on his rock axe, the little sharp one we used

to chip off specimen. It went in

below his knee. He yelled once and rolled,

and there it was, sticking out. Marchenkoff grabbed it,

yanked it out, and instantly, there was blood everywhere.

“Jesus,” Marchenkoff said, “Jesus!”

“Why’d you do that?” Farley yelled, dropping to his knees,

     yelling for help and first aid, as I reached past him,

     smacked my hand over the wound, and pressed.

“Give me your handkerchief,” I said.

“What about germs!” Farley yelled, pulling it from his pocket.

“Jesus, Jesus,” Marchenkoff intoned. He was still staring

     at the pick in his hand.

“Forget infection, we’ve got to stop this bleeding.”

     Then I looked up. “Besides, you never use it. Does he, Nelson?”

Nelson’s eyes met mine, approximately. “What?”

     His lips made the shape of the word.

“Farley never uses his handkerchief, does he?”

Just a little, he shook his head.

“Where’s the first aid kit!” Farley screamed, at

     the growing circle around us.

I patted Nelson’s leg. “You’re going to be

     okay. Stop yelling, Farley, you’re hurting

     my ear, and scaring Nelson. Marchenkoff,

     put down that pick and get your jacket under his head, okay?

     Farley, go find that first aid kit, would you?”

“Right,” he said, and sped off. The boy

     needed something to do.

Marchenkoff was pulling his jacket out of his knapsack,

     easing it under Nelson’s head. More jackets were offered;

“Lay them over him,” I said. “We have to keep him warm.”

We covered Nelson, who lay in the sunshine, shivering.

Then the first-aid kit was there, and our professor,

     and I relaxed.

Too soon. He fumbled the clasp of the little white box

     with its red cross, dropped it, tried again.

“Let’s see,” he said, hands

     hovering over bottles and rolls inside.

     “There should be some gauze—

     here it is.”

A little roll, enough

     for a scrape.

“I guess I forgot to replace this,”

he said. “You don’t expect to need these things.”

He looked up while I screamed in my head,

“Move! Move!” He extended his hands, with that

     little roll of gauze, towards my

bloody hands clamped over the wound, and stopped.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “could you—” and slumped, sideways,

     to the ground.

“Jesus,” said Marchenkoff. “Jesus Christ.”

Gloria, suddenly there, panting from the run up the hill,

     grabbed up the gauze, dropped it, swooped down for it, her head

     cracking against someone else’s.

They came up reeling, without the gauze.

“We need something bigger,” I said. “We need a shirt or something.

     Marchenkoff—see if you can find a clean shirt. Farley!

     No, don’t do that!”

He stood with his arm

     cranked back to throw, gauze in hand.

“I need it to tie on the bandage.”

Marchenkoff ran up with a white shirt.

     “It’s George’s.”

“It’s silk,” I said. “Good. Okay, now let’s fold it

     into a pad.”

We did, and tied it on. George, shirtless and white,

     climbed on a rock above to watch. Nearly all ten of us

     were there by now. Professor McGregor sat

     under a scrawny pine, with Nancy beside him. Both looked

     a little green.

“Nelson,” I said. “Nelson, can you hear me?”

His wandering eyes met mine. “You’re going to have

     a silk bandage, Nelson. Pretty classy, huh?”

He nodded a little. “Pretty classy.” His voice was weak,

     and his eyelids drooped.


It took all day to get him off the mountain.

A bunch of us, grimy, shaking, handed him over to the

     emergency doctor in Sacramento and, too exhausted

to sleep, headed for the hospital’s coffee shop.

Sitting over our thick white mugs,

we started to breathe again.

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