So far this summer, most of the stuff I’ve written has turned out to be stories from my childhood, even when that was perhaps not my intention when I started typing. Yesterday’s post broke the mold a bit, of course, but today I want to smash it!
Let me start off by telling a story from my childhood (d’oh!) to set things up. In 7th grade, I started middle school. In Staunton, where I was living at the time, we had three elementary schools, but just one middle school. So you’d be cruising along from kindergarten through 6th grade, hanging with the friends from your extended neighbourhood that you’d known for years — with an occasional The New Kid thrown in from time to time (I got to be The New Kid midway through 5th grade) — when all of a sudden you were dumped into 7th grade at Shelburne Middle School with all these people from the other two elementary schools that you probably didn’t know unless you played Little League baseball or something (in Little League, when you signed up, they just dumped you in a random team, so you wouldn’t necessarily be with your best friends).
One of these randos who was dumped into Shelburne along with me was this dude named Adam Steele. Unlike my best friend Ryan, who was into classical music, video games, and touch football (the US kind of football, not soccer football); or my best friend Ian, who was into shoes, video games, and BB guns; Adam was into Dungeons & Dragons and books and girls (he was a good-looking popular kid). Like many best friends, Adam and I were enemies before we were friends (I had another best friend like this, but that’s a really sad story that I’m honestly not sure I’m up to telling).
You see, in our social studies class, we were learning about the US legal system (but not the part about it where it disproportionately convicts Black and brown folks, ‘cuz that would be a little too real for 7th grade, apparently), and to do this, the teacher set up a mock trial where Goldilocks was being charged with breaking and entering. Adam was the prosecutor, I was Baby Bear (star witness for the prosecution, doncha know), and Goldilocks was this girl named Laura that I had a huuuuuuge crush on my entire middle school and high school career (but of course didn’t do anything about, because I didn’t know how to indicate to her that I thought she was the best and I really liked her and I’d love to get some ice cream or watch a movie or go roller skating or whatever together — wow, it sounds so easy in retrospect).
When Adam called me as a witness, I followed along with his questions according to the outline he’d prepared and coached me on, giving all the right answers. Things were looking pretty grim for Goldilocks, until her defence attorney stepped up for the cross examination and plot twist! I folded under questioning and revealed that Goldilocks was a friend of mine and I had invited her over and forgotten to tell my parents and the whole thing was just a terrible misunderstanding. As you can imagine, a jury of Goldilocks’s peers found her not guilty, she went free, and Adam absolutely hated me for the next several months.
I don’t remember what it was that diminished his hatred to the point where we started talking to each other civilly at school, but we eventually became friends and started hanging out, and he introduced me to D&D and fantasy novels (up to that point, I was unaware that fantasy was a genre, and thought that “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy were the only books like that, so I would read “The Hobbit”, then all three “Lord of the Rings” books, then when I finished “Return of the King”, I’d start over with “The Hobbit” again). Adam was my first Dungeon Master (no, not like that, you pervs), and spun amazing tales of adventure — which often ended in the gruesome death of my character — that got the blood pumping and the mind soaring. He was, in short, an incredible storyteller and one of the most creative people I’d met so far in my young life.
The two of us were in the same English class, and we would try and outdo each other with our writing assignments: his sardonic wit and gift with words against my homespun charm and odd humour. Honestly, it was one of those contests where we were both winners, because we sharpened our craft and entertained our classmates. Some people in the classroom would actually pump their fist when the teacher called one of us up to the front to read our latest, and I swear to god that we even got applause a time or two.
And then we came to the poetry unit. Adam hated poetry. I don’t remember why, but he always rolled his eyes at every poem the teacher read out loud, and claimed it was writing in the same way that modern art was art: not at all. My mom was an English teacher, however, and she had instilled a love of poetry in me years ago, so I was really enjoying the unit, and in our very first poetry writing assigment, I wrote the first in a long series of poems in a new form I had invented: Spastic Poetry.
When I was 12 years old in the United States, I didn’t know the word “spastic” was used in the UK as a hurtful pejorative term for people with mental disabilities. In the US, we used it more like “absurdly off the wall” or something like that. In any case, I now know that the word is extremely ableist, so I have now renamed my form Aberrant Poetry, because I think that captures the spirit of the original.
So here, my dear readers, is an sample of Aberrant Poetry, the first I’ve attempted in at least 25 years. Forgive me if I’m a bit rusty.
Of snails and frogs and aberrant toads
When I drive, I use the roads
Otherwise, my axel would break
And I’d have to replace it with a rake
And that would cause my car to stall
And likely run into a wall
Or perhaps into a field
Where an inventory of the creatures therein would yield
Snails and frogs and aberrent toads
And sorcerers and mages of many modes
Necromancers and wizards with funky robes
Summoning up demons with names like Wobbes
Who’d consume my car with hellish breath
Like they were high on crystal meth
Sold to them by Walter White
Or some other aberrant knight
Riding a horse of midnight black
Stopping by 7–11 for a snack
Perhaps a hot dog or even nachos
Like Randy Savage of the men of machos
Leaping down from the ring’s top rope
To land a supplex on some poor mope
But back to fields of verdant green
Wherein my car with cracked windscreen
Lay upside down, with spinning wheels
While my nasty bruise it heals
Upon the car, amongst other things
A little bird forlornly sings
Of snails and frogs and aberrant toads
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