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Lunch Bell Rang

By Phyllis Kulmatiski

Lunch bell rang and we ran down the stairs
past the plaster St. Thomas
past the cloister door
into sour Brooklyn’s factory smells
home to our railroad flats.

Mine was three flights up
my father was home from work
and snoring by now
sleep apnea
after two highballs and a long night
baking breads. 

He left on the stove
beef barley soup
two rolls thick with butter
an éclair and
a cup of honeyed tea. 

I slurped softly
turned on the TV  low
how I envied Beaver and worshipped June
hoped she didn’t get sick and die
as mother’s do. 

One day two of us were allowed
to stay at school for lunch
when all the others ran home to
their mothers,  we could stay
to clap chalk clouds out of the erasers. 

We fogged the outside bricks
with our thumping.  Choked on tears
and dust. Then we ate, Carol and I,
sweet friends, up in the hollow
classroom . Together.  Liverwurst. Rye. 

Potato chips traded for
an éclair.  Jokes exchanged for
secret crush advice advice.
We shook our hair and laughed
at the power and  pleasure of
reigning for an hour in this  quiet kingdom. 

We were princesses with pretzel rod wands.
As long as we would polish 
the desk of our teacher, the queen, 
with lemon oil once a week.
As long as we washed the board
in overlapping circles with her big
wet flannel rags.  We could stay. 

The rest ran home to railroad flats.
My father snored.
And I remembered for a while
how  my mother could smile
and I wished she could
see us dance like royal daughters of Eve
in the empty room
to a transistor radio,
and see us spit strong, high above the desks
arcing our apple seeds into the garbage cans.

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