Salve by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier
Through Frazier's seamless prose, Salve examines the myriad ways in which we soothe ourselves in an attempt to treat what ails us—for better or for worse. Ms. Frazier is the final judge of this year's Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Salve.
She Must Remember
She must remember not to mention her wake-and-bake-weed-smoking, jobless Carolina redneck dyke ex-lover's name. She must remember not to draw attention to the heart-shaped marinara smear on her left breast, or to her breasts at all, as the upstanding Dean of Student Affairs has already given her sheer white blouse and slightly visible black bra the stink-eye once today, guessing accurately that she dresses this way to gain an advantage over the fearless high school boys in her sophomore English class. She must remember not to show emotion, or lower her eyes, as she threads through packed hallways: shouting kids, scent of sweat, shiny narrow lockers. She must remember not to cuss like a gambler with Tourette's, staring at a 7-2 off suit hand.
The classroom is yellow with sunlight. This is not a typical secondary school; rather, an elite private institution in a renovated 1920's art deco hotel, all high ceilings and marble bathrooms and dark wood doors.
She must remember that the quiet one is Juliette—for the quiet ones become allies quickly, before the louder ones realize that they love her too; that she is their favorite teacher because she lets them talk. She must remember to let them talk: not while completing assignments, but in the brief moments after the bell rings, when the French financier's daughter catches her by the sleeve, Ms. Katz, to tell her how that late-night party, where she ended up the last girl drinking vodka with boys she had thought were her friends, went wrong; or in the early morning, before class, when the football Center who threatened to toss the algebra tutor out the third-floor window is waiting for her with a loaf of banana bread he's baked himself. Thank you for explaining comma splices without getting mad. You never talk to me like I'm dumb. She must remember, too, that the charismatic mother of the sociopathic Louisiana implant exploited a tragedy—got her son into the school by claiming he'd been a straight A student at a school whose records were wiped out in the hurricane, though it was perfectly clear he'd never cracked a book in his life.
The faculty lounge is intimate and warm, connected to an oak paneled reading room and a miniature library. In the library, a classic rolling ladder allows her to reach the topmost shelves, and motes of dust float incessantly, year-round, on some soft current that circulates from nowhere.
She must remember not to mention her wake-and-bake-weed-smoking, jobless Carolina redneck dyke ex-lover's name. She must remember to label her Cokes, or lose them to the Dean of Discipline. She must remember not to grin as she watches the Coke thief rummage through the faculty fridge, and imagines the contents of his desk drawers: riding crop, paddle, ball gag, nipple clamps, leather gimp suit, hose? She must remember that the Assistant Headmaster is a widow who insists on Mrs. although, if the gossip here is to be trusted, she hated her husband, may he rest in peace, and slept around.