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Jesse Nathan: Pick of the Week [ed. Terence Winch]

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There was a boy even stranger than I

who’d call me in the evening

to see if I’d come to Scouts. Something in me

hesitated. Then one morning


during eighth grade English we got hall passes

and did it in a stall in the bathroom

taking turns over the john,

as thrilling as clumsy.


We kept our secret.

But he came to seem a target

around that one-light town. The cut of his hair

or the way he laughed, or maybe


his jittery hunched-up walk.

For a while he went on calling me

to see if I’d go with him to Scouts.

Instead I learned: treat him low


or be treated so myself.

Once in Art while the others snickered

I planted tacks across his chair,

and he sat down and shot up so quick


the chair sprang backwards, a few silver tacks

still sticking in his rear, his roar

like the shining in the corners of his eyes,

snarling as he came at me with scissors,


and only the teacher’s lightning maneuver

kept me from my due.

After that he looked at me, if at all, like the traitor

I was. Later that year his dad moved him


to a Christian school where they teach

the planet was made in seven actual days

and dinosaur bones got planted by God

to amuse geologists and children.


Jesse Nathan was raised in northern California and rural Kansas. He was a founding editor of the McSweeney's Poetry Series, and now teaches literature in the English Department at UC Berkeley. His poems have appeared in the Paris Review, the New York Review of Books, and other magazines, and he's been a recipient of fellowships from the Arts Research Center and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He lives in Oakland.

Boy Scouts at a swimming class at Boy Scout Camp in Florence  Alabama. Photograph  July 1942   web
                                  Boy Scouts at a swimming class at Boy Scout Camp in Florence, Alabama. Photograph, July 1942

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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