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drill :: michael collier

by on April 7, 2017

When the fire bell rang its two short, one long
electric signal, the boys closest to the wall
of windows had to raise the blinds and close
the sashes, and then join the last of our line
as it snaked out the classroom onto the field
of asphalt where we stood, grade-by-grade,
until the principal appeared with her gold Timex.

We learned early that catastrophe must always
be attended in silence, that death prefers us
orderly and ordered, and that rules will save us
from the chaos of our fear, so that even
if we die, we die together, which was the calm
almost consoling thought I had each time
the yellow C.D. siren wailed and we would tuck
ourselves beneath our sturdy desktops.

Eyes averted from the windows,
we’d wait for the drill to pass or until
the nun’s rosary no longer clicked and we could hear
her struggling to free herself from the leg-well
of her desk, and then her call for us to rise
and, like herself, brush off the dust gathered
on our clothes. And then the lessons resumed.
No thought of how easily we interred ourselves,

though at home each would dream the mushroom cloud,
the white cap of apocalypse whose funnel stem
sucked glass from windows, air from lungs,
and made all these rehearsals the sad and hollow
gestures that they were, for we knew it in our bones
that we would die, curled in a last defense—
head on knees, arms locked around legs—
the way I’ve seen it since in nursing homes

and hospices: forms bedsheets can’t hide,
as if in death the body takes on the soul’s
compact shape, acrobatic, posed to tumble free
of the desktop or bed and join the expanse
and wide scatter of debris.

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