Each step is a lesson in reverse. A nostalgic walk caught between moving forward and revisiting hurt. This is high school; everything is a matter of mattering. The class president shakes your hand, welcomes you back to campus, and tells you to vote for him. The quarterback grips a football and asks what you think of his Friday night performance. The prom queen passes by without acknowledging your existence. You are now a poet, and in this poem they’re all fat and bald and ghosts. But it is you who feels invisible and are haunted by their presence. You are seventy pounds more muscular than graduation day and can press two plates. Your pecs are steely peaks that lead your body when you walk. Getting problems off your chest is a good look on you. Yet this visit is a twisted funhouse and every mirror spotlights a reflection of your senior portrait. The caption reads Most likely to be tortured over the years by what you weren’t… and what you never will be. Your words were muted by a bludgeoning shyness that bullied your desire to simply speak, trapped by a skeletal frame, clattering throughout the hallways. Why did you come back here? The alma mater plays over the intercom and you sing along as if the antiquated words still hold weight: To thine name we’re ever true. Because you have never been able to shake school spirits. You forget the name of the guidance counselor who highly suggested you enlist because you were a minority, fifteen, and had no idea what to pursue after high school. But you remember your fired psychology teacher’s name and when she claimed, Any man who likes to relive his pain is called a human.
The silver lining is mostly sewn on the underside of a recurring nightmare. Stitched and sequined just below the itchy Made in Indonesia tag. A gentle reminder that optimism can be equally ripped away from dreams or denim. The children work long hours to ensure the quality and quota of the product. Tiny hands that epitomize manmade is greater than manufactured by machine. Families that tailor together, stay together. Paid under the table in order to put food on it is the silent motto of every interoffice memo. Being trapped is the most common night terror, but sometimes having no options is a better motivator than minimum wage. Looking on the bright side of any situation can be achieved when staring up at the stars casts a faint glow on the storm clouds threatening above.
Daniel Romo is the author of When Kerosene’s Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014) and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). His poetry can be found in The Los Angeles Review, Gargoyle, The Good Man Project, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and he is an Associate Poetry Editor at Backbone Press. He lives in Long Beach, CA and loves football, but he bleeds Dodger Blue… a lot… More at danielromo.net.