In honor of the new academic year, we’re re-visiting Jesse Damiani’s “First Grade,” which appeared in issue 78 of the minnesota review. Damiani is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His poetry has been published or forthcoming in 42opus, elimae, Pleiades, and Ninth Letter, among others. He is a past recipient of the John Mackay Shaw Academy of American Poets Award from Florida State University.
All the kids were saying ugly things.
Ejected space debris: clusters of small
needles, defunct satellites, venus fly
traps. Sure—I had buckteeth, overbite,
gaps. A dental Stonehenge—no chain-
link fence to keep out unwanted visitors,
unnecessary damage, too-hard rubbing,
itching, crumbling. But I could spell like
a motherfucker. When I won the spelling
bee, Paul (Anti-hero) told me I’d won
the Super Bowl, got all the other kids
to join in, laugh, slap my back. Paul had 9
siblings, 1 twin, 1 good Catholic family.
I used to try to say the Rosary like his
mother did, while he stole other kids’
lunches. I wanted Jesus to be mine, get
me things I wanted, make me good
at football, fix my teeth. I watched her,
a woman with eyes shut, mouth twitching
prayers, fingers flitting bead, bead, bead,
Our Father, Hail Mary. An electric-fenced
dog barks at passing strangers. A girl
looks at the rosary in her mother’s room
& only sees a necklace.