“Lake Ontario,” “This Town With One Bridge,” and “A Proctor at the Final Exam”

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Photo by Derek Sutton on Unsplash

Lake Ontario

To Dad

You are launching us in the boat

that you made seaworthy. It scrapes against the

pebbles which shift so reassuringly when the lake

is calm. It is your boat, your day, and we are your

children. We have brought along our families,

all that we have added to your empire. We wear

the sun on our cheeks and our hair is wild

from the wind and the swimming.

The waves are gentle. We giggle – teenagers again—

laughing at the squabbling gulls, the resiliency

of the oars you have had to retrieve so often,

the desire to take yet another picture of

the sunset, the anticipation of the campfire songs

we will sing which once made us believe

you grew up among cowboys. Although we are all

strong swimmers, we are wearing our orange

lifejackets because you have always insisted.

We are like petals of the sunset, stemming from the

dark, lost histories below, balanced precariously

on the boat as it rocks in the shimmering water. We

are your children, too confident to notice the rays

filling the boat and setting it alight, piercing holes

in the bottom, illuminating the sunken treasures and

lost cities far below, and you, on the shore, waving.

This town with one bridge

This town with one bridge

leans away from the lights reflected off the river,

celestial certainties of life

on the other side. Its plywood store-front windows,

scuffed construction cones,

boxed apartment buildings, Victorian turrets

blackened with mildew

give into the slope. A man sways down main street

at midnight, smokes down his cigarette

until it burns his lips, curses, and flicks it away.

Every Sunday a retired schoolteacher

carrying her black bag, stabbing at litter, walks alone

alongside the single railroad track

that careens along the river, the trains announcing

themselves from the east,

yet every decade someone won’t hear it coming.

Early mornings are so still

that I won’t see a person fishing from the rocks

until a fish on the hook

breaks the water. Kids on bikes use the flag

raised high every morning

in front of the town hall as a landmark

when they give directions to a passer-by.

They ride up and down cracked sidewalks

in a town banked against the river.

A Proctor at the Final Exam

A proctor at the final exam,

I notice the fidgeters—the pen

suckers, necklace twirlers, earlobe

kneaders, knuckle squeezers, thigh

bouncers, cuticle chewers, and

lip pullers—trying to muster

the requisite concentration

for the poetry passage. One

makes her pen dance like the tail of

a happy puppy while she gazes

down the aisle, as though in the

carpet stains will appear “simile,”

defined. Another wrinkles his nose

like a suspicious bunny. They

wait for me to release them from

their tics by calling “time.” I watch

the clock, recalling years ago,

my mother’s frown during Mass as

I played with my coat zipper. (“Why

can’t you stop fiddling?” she sighed.

“But I’m not,” I replied, “This is

a trombone!”): my mother, who tapped

her foot when the nurse adjusted

the IV, rolled rosary beads

between her fingers as the priest

prayed and fluttered her eyelids when I

bent to kiss her. I think of her

while the bank clerk, waiting for

the screen to change, drums red

lacquered fingernails along the

keyboard, and later, as the old

man walks up and down the street at

night, even though it has been months

since his dog was lost. The next day

when the graders gather, they shuffle

their papers, counting how many are

left to read:  a woman draws her

shoulder to her ear as if to

muffle the effects of poor diction,

another massages her forehead,

a man rubs his brushcut, impatient

for better luck, and in the back

of the room, tallying scores, sits

a tired teacher, nodding, nodding.

About the Author

Sally Ventura

Sally Ventura’s work appears in various journals such as Earth’s Daughters, Educational Leadership and English Journal, and she has previously served as associate editor of The English Record. She lives and teaches in Olean, New York.

Read more work by Sally Ventura.