I am damned close to the edge
because this golden Asperger’s boy
was assigned a three-page term paper
on Purgatory. Rather than write it, he bites
his nails as I try to channel him through the grand
array of human experience. He wrenches his feet
back and forth. It’s impossible to explain
that someday he too may be teetering
to a long ago gap. How can I say, As you sway
in hard-scrabble history, stay steady
for Cerberus and his rough rows of dark
teeth, the matted fur. Do not fear the crowding. Sit
pinned to night. He twirls his hair in his right hand.
He asks a pointless question, one filled with the enormity
of existence. I’m impatient, and he’s in no hurry
to think through the future of his past. We pretend
his mind is not blurred with life’s strongest
currents, that he knows lamentation and cold,
when instead he has changed course
to a track meet on Tuesday and his family’s trip
to Alaska this summer—Will they see elk? From the endless
abyss, I nudge him and he scrutinizes
the window. We’re reaching the irreducible
deadline. What will it take for him to hunch
in the innermost, to imagine he’s in a stained boat
on a backdraft of previous days? Oh, to hell with it!
It’s like having three heads, doing this tutoring job
with a boy in his reveries. Just as I give up, he looks to the side
without seeing, and says astrally So…, inching around
his unnavigable thoughts as he often does. He intones
with a voice thick and wrestled, The ferryman will pull an obolus
from our weeping eyes, showing each of our sins.
This 16-year-oldon the verge of failing his classes
tells me, We have to yield up our runneled faces.
He shrugs and looks off. Then we sit in what is left
of winter, and the air seems fated with silence,
but still, it’s made of air.
Lauren Camp is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith, 2013), winner of the New Mexico Press Women 2014 Poetry Book Prize and a World Literature Today “Editor’s Pick.” Her third book, One Hundred Hungers, was selected by David Wojahn for the Dorset Prize, and will be published by Tupelo Press in 2016. Her poems have appeared in Brilliant Corners, Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Nimrod, J Journal, and elsewhere. She hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio, and writes the blog Which Silk Shirt. www.laurencamp.com