Diesel exhaust seeped through the open window.
Almost made me sick, but my stomach churned
already from nervousness. My first day in school.
My blue blazer, brushed free from lint, felt tight
when I sat on the bus’ green leather seat.
I didn’t think to unbutton it. But the ride was short.
The First Grade classroom seemed littered
with many papers pinned to the walls; an alphabet
was strung around the room like a party decoration.
It was scary because I didn’t know what the letters
meant. I didn’t even know what a letter was,
but I remember my momma trying to teach me.
The Sisters of St. Francis wore a thick chord
fashioned around their waist that dangled down.
It looked like a whip. I was scared about that, too.
When I went to the bathroom, I didn’t know
what to do—I never saw a vertical urinal before,
only sit-down toilets. When I let my pants fall
to the floor, the other boys laughed; they laughed
harder when they saw me pee. I thought
I did something wrong. I thought the nuns
were going to spank me with that chord.
John C. Mannone has work in North Dakota Quarterly, Le Menteur, 2020 Antarctic Poetry Exhibition, and others. He won the Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017) in Appalachian literature and served as celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and others.