I got to Millbrook twelve years late,
though the horsey set was still sunning itself in the cafes,
their Lexuses polished to nubs
and tied to the decorative posts at the curb.
John had died before we could take up golf,
or watch birds with the Audubons
dragging their fancy Wellies through the mud,
or cash in any of his hoped-for lottery winnings—
though plenty well-off already,
a bachelor, who taught the hell out of those kids even in the summer
and drove a bus each afternoon, and never spent much,
as if the Great Depression he’d been taught as a kid
was right around the next curve on Fisher Avenue.
Fridays the dollar tickets were stuffed
in the top pocket of his Dacron shirt,
the same one he’d worn, stained and askew,
since he was a pup and the principal took a chance on him,
despite the way he dressed and his plentiful unpolished ways:
John was born rumpled and called not-so-smart from the first—
no one had yet heard him declaim Romeo’s lovesick soliloquies
and make them make sense to thirteen-year-olds
who had plenty of problems of their own,
or convince the motley kids he taught
why they’d rather tour Sunnyside
than spend and get at the Mickey Ds right off the highway
close in to the old Sleepy Hollow cemetery
where I bet John would have wished to be buried,
though the Babe and Gentleman Jimmy
are now his neighbors up in Hawthorne.
How fitting for an ill-fitting squire from Millbrook.
Still, years later, strangers come up to tell me
he was their perfect teacher,
though I know for a fact John had plenty of faults.
I just can’t think of any right now.
Alan Walowitz lives in Great Neck, NY within sight of the New York City border. Some days he teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and other days at St. John’s University in Queens. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, will be published next year by Osedax Press.