SEVEN TIMES SEVEN
Sister Teresa Gertrude's face was even redder
than it had been before lunch
and she smelled
like the Chiclets
she carried around in her right pocket,
the box rattling around in time
with the hand carved rosary
that hung at her side.
She was drilling us on the multiplication tables-
multiples of seven
up to twelve.
Before lunch she reviewed the weeks grammar lesson:
Teaching us the difference
between p-e-a-r, p-a-i-r, and p-a-r-e.
Beside me William Wagstaff was drawing
a picture of an X-15,
the fastest plane in the world.
I was thinking about Mary Patricia Gallagher.
Twice that week I'd given her my lunch money
as a token of my love.
John Karalis, an otherwise sensible guy,
who would go on to become a computer whiz,
was waiting expectantly,
like a dog salivating before dinner,
for someone to make a mistake
so that he could have his hand up first
with the right answer.
As always, Julie Pekarik and Marjorie Minogue
were giggling about something.
Jesperson who was always totally cool
It was almost Thanksgiving
so the room was lined with those stupid turkeys
you make by tracing the outline of your hand
onto construction paper.
Kathleen Cope, the penultimate nerd,
who always won all the spelling bees
had just answered that seven times seven
Karalis' hand shot up like lightening
and Mother Mary Sienna, the big cheese,
came on the intercom
saying that the president had been shot.
Now the nuns at the school were St. Joe's
and Irish Catholic all the way
and this wasn't just any president that was dying
but John Fitzgerald Kennedy
and as Irish as Paddy's pig,
so they all started praying big time.
They were all fairly freaked
but at seven or eight
death wasn't something
that made much sense.
It was vague
and being that it had something to do
with going to heaven
kind of mysterious.
By then my grandfather had died
but to me that wasn't a whole lot different
from my Aunt Grace
who went to Honduras
for two years without coming back.
Though it seemed at the time
that my grandfather could have returned
without it being much of a big deal
at least to me if you know what I mean.
When the word came
that Kennedy was dead
the nuns scurried back and forth
like chickens in the rain
leaving us mostly unattended.
So William Wagstaff made paper airplanes,
X-15's I suppose.
And Jesperson and Karalis and I
flirted with Pekarik, and Minogue, and Mary Patricia Gallagher.
Kathleen Cope said the rosary.
Somehow, they all managed to get us all home
and then the long dark weekend began.
It's twenty-five years later
and I know now what I didn't know then
that the last of the Great American Heroes had left us.
And I'm sad now when I wasn't sad then.
I remember the lesson of homonyms:
that things that seem the same
can really be very different.
And I wish to return to a time
when things were very simple
when all you needed to know
was seven times seven.