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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 24 page 15

verse

Absent

by Robert Currie

Conrad wasn’t at school that day.
We were all of us bent over our scribblers,
writing letters precisely between the lines,
trying for swooping loops on the e’s and I’s,
doing it right, just like Miss Brevick, her white
letters marching in rows over the blackboard.
If Conrad was scrunched here in the desk beside me,
he’d write every letter once, a single line
smooth and unbroken, a twenty-six letter word
we’d never pronounce, and then he’d draw.

No stick-men for Conrad, I liked to watch
from the side of my eye, a real boy spinning
out of his pen, a boy running or climbing a tree,
sometimes a man with a big stick, and the sky
— he was always drawing the sky — clouds swelling
and swirling, cyclones and lightning, hail in the wind.
After school I played tag until supper-time,
but it wasn’t much fun without Conrad.

That night when we sat down to eat,
my father switched off the news,
my mother looking at me and him.
After supper he ripped out the funny page,
tore it right out of the Times, gave it to me,
and went off with the rest of the paper.
At bedtime, they read to me, both of them read,
a chapter each from Winnie the Pooh.

The next morning I couldn’t wait for the bell.
I ran into the school, right up to Miss Brevick
and asked her when Conrad was coming back.
Her mouth fell open, a round and perfect
“O,” but not a sound came out of that “O.”
I started to cry, and so did Miss Brevick,
her shoulders beginning to shake, her arms
reaching for me, and I didn’t know why.