i learned how to win in four moves at chess. i learned the three segments of every insect’s body. i learned that ms. jacqueline takes her smoke breaks behind the gymnasium and stubs out her cigarette on the oleander petals. i learned that a = a is not the same as a is a according to mrs. christensen. i don’t remember why but i know that i learned it. i learned the five c’s of arizona. i learned the immutable sum of a triangle’s angles. i learned when ms. jacqueline does it like that it makes little holes in the petals. i learned an equals sign connotes the distance between us whereas a two-letter word will collapse the sentence. that’s copper cattle cotton climate and citrus. i had a streak of 17 wins at rock paper scissors. i learned they don’t care a lick about creosote. about the crested caracara. about christ or casinos or the corruption underlying consumption and crony capitalism. i learned that mrs. christensen is what ms. jacqueline calls a commie. mrs. christensen says they care quite a bit about the coal in their cars and canals but we all got a use ‘em to keep on living. i learned how to trade up from a box of milk to a bag of baby carrots to a fruit cup full of balled melon to my second cellophaned brownie every tuesday during the lunch hour. i learned where to hide during the mile. i learned where to appear on the final lap to make it seem like i’d run it, the mile. where to puke with nobody seeing if in fact i really did run the mile. i learned that mr. williams the science teacher irons his pants in the classroom before morning homeroom. i learned leticia saw him doing it she said he does it in his underwear. i learned how to shoot staples out of the end of a mechanical pencil. i learned where the bus driver lives. i learned how to make sculptures of colored ice el pegamento es la sal and i learned how when you’re swinging on the swing set in the same exact arc as the person next to you you’re supposed to shout get out of my kitchen. i learned edwin and marcella are already doing it. i learned how to be late to class after lunch and make the teacher think i was still at recess when really i’d gone under the fence and down the street to one of those green plastic rent-a-cans to think about the milkman’s lone son with the prettiest eyes. i learned the definition of the word tangible. i learned to ask forgiveness from the saints of the rent-a-cans. by scratching my initials with a metal fork into the green laminate i learned it. i learned a radius gives you a circle’s circumference. i learned which books they banned from the schools in tucson. i learned where to find those books in the public library. i learned brittany and leticia were doing it. i learned how to shoot little pellets of blue clay i stole from the art room out of a straw like a blow gun. until mrs. christensen started finding them on the carpet. and hagy got caught. and i had to ask to use the bathroom to flush the clay down the toilet and shove my straw into the floor drain. i learned i don’t like skyler’s marshmallow and peanut butter sandwiches. i learned marcella has a crush on me. i learned it because she revealed it herself inside one of those paper fortune tellers decorated with red-markered flowers. i learned it’s illegal to walk through a hotel lobby with your spurs on. i learned to speak without raising your hand is like trying to catch wind on a ship with no mast. i learned that’s only the case unless you keep speaking without your hand raised in which case it’s like getting caught in a gale with no bucket to bale yourself out with. the gale was the stick when ms. jacqueline was a kid she said but now society only permits me the use of stern language and the confiscation of time so don’t you forget time is money okay honey but ms. jacqueline doesn’t know i got a rubber scorpion in my pocket. i learned ms. jacqueline is actually more afraid of mice than of scorpions. i learned a rumor that she and mr. williams are doing it before morning homeroom but i haven’t confirmed it. i learned it’s illegal to teach a class in a language that’s not english. aprendí que por eso hagy y leticia pasan la mitad del día en otra sala. aprendí que por eso los vaqueros evitan los hoteles y las hermanas nguyen siempre se van de pinta. i learned to jump on my desk and say oh no not a scorpion oh no. i learned to watch ms. jacqueline’s face when she sees it. i learned to shout look there’s a mouse on its stinger like jesus affixed to his crucifix the stinger going through both paws and the tail lopped off oh no. i learned to watch them do battle in a ring of fire on the bathroom tile with the venom beading at the tips of them. hagy was the one who did it he doused a loop of string in rubbing alcohol he borrowed from the nurse’s office then flicked his lighter on we were just like the romans oh no ms. jacqueline i learned to scream oh no i learned to see everything and nothing i learned sometimes i think i remember what i’ve learned only later to realize i misremembered it i learned that everybody runs outside and i can run out behind them i learned that’s how to see into the classroom next door through the big picture window holding hagy and leticia and the nguyen sisters captive for half the school day i guess they forgot to wear their spurs or something to the principal’s office and i learned to recite the preamble to the constitution i learned not far from here near picacho peak is the site of the westernmost battle in the civil war that left three dead and some others wounded but it didn’t last more than hour. i learned to dig a hole from here to china. i learned to spot a horse gone loopy on locoweed. i learned our water flows uphill from a distant river. i learned where mr. williams keeps the mice to feed his rattlesnake.
Sean McCoy grew up in Arizona. The star in this asterism is from his novel arizona city. He edits Contra Viento, a journal for art and literature from rangelands.
Other stars in the Owl asterism:
Skin and Bone
Melissa Llanes Brownlee
Her toes curling in the sand, Tita counts the shells spiraling beside her. Their bleached bodies, remnants of once-living creatures, wondering if her bones will shine as brightly when she is dead.
Chloe N. Clark
The first time I’d held a basketball, I was four, and my Dad had passed it gently to me. In my hands, it was heavy and I dropped it. As it rolled away, I saw people climb up from the lines.
Jose Hernandez Diaz
The man in an MF DOOM shirt, “El Chacal,” was masked: a virus had spread that winter. It will all be over soon, he thought.