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School of the Americas

By Rebecca Black

Sergio has ink-pot eyes, girlish wrists.
He draws superheroes extremely well—
Avengers, Wolfman, El Toro Rojo,

any one wearing a mask. Monday nights
we drive to the art club meeting
in the cream-colored Sunbird

I bought with babysitting money.
I don't know how he ended up with his mom
in the South, just the two of them, but

I spend 9th grade sitting next to him,
translating a Georgia O'Keefe painting
into pastel chalk: a lily dusted with pollen.

One day during class, Sergio tells me he saw
his grandparents shot before his eyes
back in Colombia. The phrase sticks out

in his heavy accent, like a child repeating
something just overheard. After a few minutes,
we go back to our drawings.

In the evenings that year I sign my name
to stock letters sent by Amnesty International
and mail them to faraway dictators

of the 1990s: Mubarak, Mobutu, Marcos.
All the while a quarter of a tank away,
at the School of the Americas (now the

Western Hemispheres Institute for Security
Cooperation) hundreds of Colombian
soldiers train in truth extraction,

how to intimidate, the best ways
to torture. In the yearbook,
I list my hobbies: poetry

and human rights. I have yet
to draw a picture of anything
from life—the art teacher seems

disappointed that Sergio and I
are mere copyists. After graduation,
Sergio finished a year

of art school in Chicago,
got cancer and died.
I guess I had a crush on him

when we were fourteen,
and I sat next to him,
copying those sexual flowers.

One has to start somewhere.
Just start: before my eyes could see,
I drew things like that lily.

Added: Tuesday, September 8, 2015  /  Black's poem won Second Place in the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Contest, graciously adjudicated by Tim Seibles. Used with permission.
Rebecca Black

In 2011, Rebecca Black was a Fulbright distinguished scholar at the Seamus Heaney Center for Poetry in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  She is the author of Cottonlandia, winner of a Juniper Prize. A former Wallace Stegner and NEA fellow, her poems can be found in Poetry, New England Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Agni, and many other magazines. She has taught at several universities, most recently in the MFA Program at UNC-Greensboro.

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