Remembering Alden

At thirteen, he wrote his first poem.
It was called Zita's Pimples and the Mysteries They Contain;
it was meant to be a love poem, like all first poems were.
Alden sent it to The New Yorker. Of course, there was no reply.

He talked about Pompeii and how it looked before the ashes
had covered it. He made it sound as if he had vacationed there.
He once said that history could make us stronger,
not because we could learn from it, but because we knew
who killed who, and that was invaluable gossip.
"Information was power," he said. To convince us,
he narrowed down his eyes to slits, and we believed him.

Alden's eyesight was bad, like all geeks were.
He excelled in class, like all geeks were.
But no team would take him in. He was always the one
we sent to the bench as substitute. A mind imprisoned
in a body so frail had no room in the gym. But Alden had
a way about him. He found dignity in his weakness.
We found his flaws to underscore our strengths.
Alden made us special that way.

Miss Rivera, the history teacher, was cruel to him.
We heard the sarcasm in her voice every time Alden
dominated the discussion. At thirteen, we had a whole
world to deface, so we poked fun at Alden.
And Miss Rivera was beautiful when she smiled.

Alden was accepted by a university in the big city,
like all geeks were. Some of us got married after
high school. Some of us died while driving drunk.

During the first class reunion, we watched Alden
strut into the small town ballroom
in his expensive suit and genuine Rolex.
He was still ungainly, like all geeks were.
Zita and her pimple scars made a pass.
Alden smiled at her, at every one.
We were very happy for him; he deserved it.
We saw his wedding band, an arc of yellow
in a room full of dust and confetti.
We knew his wife. Small-time starlet named Suzie,
a wisecracking bimbo with ten-pound boobs
and an IQ equivalent to that of the Jurassic flea.
(That was according to Amy, our class president.)
We did not call her Sushi in Alden's presence.
Alden said that she had the flu.
There was something in his eyes
which made us disbelieve him.
That moment, we would love for him to marry Zita.

Two years later, Alden did not show up
for our class reunion. The news last week
said something about a prominent banker
who jumped out of an office building's balcony.

Perhaps, Alden just slipped.
He did not go that far only to miss a step.
But the papers summed up everything for us:
he did not leave anything to the Sushi.

Maybe, Alden was not meant to stand on something so tall.
Maybe, he wanted to say something. We all missed him,
especially what it was that he had to say.

Kristine Ong Muslim's poems and stories have been accepted
in more than 100 journals, magazines, and anthologies worldwide.
Her poems have recently appeared in Adbusters, Antithesis
Bleeding Quill, Birmingham Words, Blue Print Review,
Chronogram, Cordite Poetry Review, The Journal, LauraHird.com,
The Pedestal Magazine, T-Zero,
and Tipton Poetry Journal.

Her publication history can be found here

2007 Underground Voices