denise duhamel & amy lemmon


They found the rifle the transfer student had carried

inside his guitar case.  They found his professor

crouched in the mailroom, clutching a cane. A lesser

teacher might have had fewer dependable office hours, varied

the days, or just skipped out. Prof. Grimes

was famous for his tweed and neon green chalk

drawings during Quantum Facts and Relations. Talk

about a mensch.  He read late papers alongside the Times

crossword every morning. Channel Seven news

wanted him to talk, but he was afraid he'd be misconstrued,

misquoted, found an accessory. A solitary dude,

Grimes waxed his moustache and shined his shoes

before breakfast. Now the soymilk and oatmeal roiled

under his buttons.  A cop helped him to his feet

and gently said, "I need to ask a few questions." Neat

stacks of interoffice envelopes fastened by strings coiled

tight spilled down from the chairperson's slot.

The "real world" had never interested Grimes much

since disco died. He'd stuck to his ABBA CDs, the touch

of Agnetha's lips in "When I Kissed the Teacher," not

the foul smooch of Marilyn Manson or gansta rap's

gold bite.  Grimes had noticed stickers on the guitar case,

gamely asked the kid about them. "It's a bass,"

he muttered, his eyes snake eyes in a game of craps,

the classroom full of losers. He moved to play

with his retro Rubik's cube, the permutations

spelling out some ancient curse. Concatenations--

broken home, broken string of friends--equaled doomsday. 

Fortunately, Grimes summoned security, tapping his stick

at the red emergency phone until the receiver fell in his lap

and it automatically dialed. The kid grabbed the strap

of his rifle, the cops grabbed the kid, crushing his guitar pick.


I knew my father had to be one of three men:

Tom Selleck, Phil Silver, or some French guy

my mother met in Quebec when she worked for the FBI

during Vietnam. She loved them all, she says, and then

left.  In my baby pics, I'm a dead ringer for Telly Savalas

sans lollipop (choking hazard). Mom was my hero.

Her cobbler?  Delicious. Her impersonation of Robert DeNiro?

Not so much. She looked like Diamanda Galas

or Meryl Streep, depending upon her mood,

makeup, and accessories. Meatloaf was never

too loud--she blasted "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" whenever

she cooked or cleaned, "Bat Out of Hell" when she brewed

her own lager.  Didn't she at least want child support?

I could have worn Levi's instead of Big Yanks from Kmart.

Whoever my dad was, he was cast to play a bit part

in ABBA: The Movie by Lasse Halstrom. Taking Mamma to the airport,

I asked her, "What if I take a DNA test?  Swab my cheek,

settle it once and for all." "Oh no, cara mia,"

my mother frowned, clutching her tickets to Korea.

"What is life without a little mystery?" Later that week

I went through the old home movies, looking for clues

in the jaw lines of villains, the profiles of leading men--

Mom in her German spy trench coat posing with John Glenn

at Madame Tussaud's . Those flicks and photos gave me the blues.

I took a foreign diplomat to the father/daughter dance.

He was handsome and charming, but I couldn't pronounce

his real name.  "Call me Papa," he said as he bounced

and stomped, narrowly missing my Thom McAns.

Mom was off to Sweden next.  I was stuck home watering plants

and nuking Stouffer's, when the phone rang. "Dad?"

But no, it was mom's boss.  I scribbled on the while-you-were-out pad:

Paul called. He said to tell you “We’ll always have France.”