After the Prom

After the Prom

In the weird dark 1980s, in the basement of our school,

they showed us nature movies on sixteen-millimeter spools.

Unfurling with a crackle and a whirring of the wheels,

salmon eggs and silverbacks cut through water white as steel.

I watched with my breath bated, bewildered by the speed,

while they thrashed and broke in the river — which ones died which ones would breed?

These days it’s much the same thing,

OK, it’s a slightly different show:

which way  from here is upstream, which way should we go?

 

Little anthem, little children, little bomb

I’ll meet you behind the gym after the prom

 

Heartbeats being heartbeats, they served us back the war

after summer dinners, in suburban living rooms.

My dad said, “Son, for you an early bed tonight;

I don’t want for you to see this, and what’s good ain’t always right.”

So, I lay there in the darkness, my lungs twin purple cages,

needing more than oxygen for my dad to be courageous.

Less than a decade later, in a senior high school classroom,

while watching The Day After, at last I could forgive him

 

Little anthem, little children, little bomb

I’ll meet you behind the gym after the prom

 

Grand jury’s in discovery, and they’re choking on the burden of proof:

if the glove fits you must convict, when’s the last time that was the truth?

Now, I’m going to the tribunal, and I’m trading in my gown;

I’m trading my diploma; I’m getting out of town.

‘Cause I crouch still in my hallway like it’s a basement or a bed.

Forget the mushroom clouds over Kansas, 747s are over your head.

It’s this critical fork in the junction, some of us will got caught

and I know it doesn’t matter, babe, but this is all I got.

 

Little anthem, little children, little bomb

I’ll meet you behind the gym after the prom

I’ll meet you behind the gym after the prom

 

(Life Underwater Music, 2002)

 

James O'Brien