- High School, and: Ode to My Skinny Legs, and: The Woman in the Wall, and: Unspoken, and: The Italian Garden
It would have been a joke if prisons were jokes. We read the usual in English class—Steinbeck, Hemingway—and our science teachers meant well,but for all they taught us, we might have lived in the eighteenth century, when universities focused mainly on theology, and science was conducted
on weekends by gentlemen with hand-cranked electrostatic generators and butterfly nets. As far as social studies, forget it: the teacher scolded mewhen he didn't know who the chief justice was and I did, and when he tried to say quiet, it came out quite. Be quite, Kirby! Bertrand and Kirby,
be quite now! The girls were beautiful. I was sixteen. Even the plain girls were beautiful. But they didn't know how to kiss, and I didn't knowhow to teach them. About that time, the folk music craze hit, and when the Kingston Trio's Close-Up dropped in October of that year, Al Edwards
and Bob Spain and I figured the road to glory was paved with sheet music, and since Al already owned a guitar and Bob a banjo, that left the bongosto me, it remaining only for our mothers to starch and iron our look-alike shirts, white half-sleeved affairs with blue stripes that appeared to be made out
of the cloth usually reserved for window awnings, the kind of shirts worn only by hot-dog vendors and folk singers, meaning they were the kind [End Page 107] the Kingston Trio would have worn had they been us. After we played our first show in the cafeteria, four of the bustiest girls in our school ran up
and squealed, "You sound exactly like the Trio!" What were they talking about? None of us could sing at all. We should have practiced moreand squabbled less. The best thing you could say about us is that we didn't forget any of the words and that we more or less began and ended together.
Other than that, we were terrible. I'd never been happier in my life. We played another dozen dates or so, and then Al's uncle proposed he take uson the road for the summer to play in the school gyms of towns so isolated that people who couldn't make it to Vicksburg or Montgomery to hear real musicians
might actually pay to hear us. But our mothers said no; they gave no reasons, but I'm guessing they saw us falling into the clutches of hard women, desperatesmall-town divorcées who'd introduce us to cigarettes, underage drinking, and worse. I wanted worse. I wanted to kiss an older woman, somebody
who was twenty-eight, say, even thirty, a blond in capri pants and heels, her top sliding off one shoulder, her smoky breath in my faceand then her lips on mine like a hot wind, the one desert dwellers call samoon, which means poison because others drop dead at its approach, but not me,
who is wrapped by it, lifted, my mouth sprung by a kiss like lightning, a flash that spreads and spreads and stays as I feel each thing that willhappen in my life from this moment on, the way those wrecked and underwater follow a train of images until they sink, and the darkness returns, and they're free. [End Page 108]
Ode to My Skinny Legs
When you look up "man of parts," you get the eighteenth-century definition of that term, meaning someone who is capable in multiple endeavors,though if you look up "woman of parts," you get a lot of websites dealing with anatomy. Very unfair! as the president of the United Stateswould say. And not just the president: anyone can see that it never was,
is not, and never will be right to define men by their big brains and women by their bodies, not that brains aren't body parts."Everybody loves their own body," I heard a woman say recently, and the man who...