SWWIM publishes, celebrates, & promotes women, women-identifying & Femme-presenting writers through a Miami-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

Fifth Grade: Port Wentworth, GA by Theresa Malphrus Welford

Why remember that day in fifth grade

when the teacher left the room?

It was no big deal. It was just Mrs. Rowland:

her silver shoes, her gold shoes,

her shimmering beauty-parlor curls,

her odd aphorisms:

Cain’t is hiding behind the fence corner.

Nobody puts on airs when they’re about to vomit.


We were kids,

and we were on our own,

and someone prissy was taking names.

And we were wild.

And then one kid, tall for his age,

lanky, with greasy black hair,

jumped up on a table.

He danced a silly step, rolled his eyes, flicked

his tongue like a snake. 

I’d seen that kind of silliness before.

But this was new:

he held his closed fist below his belt,

pumped it rhythmically,

back and forth, back and forth.


The other kids laughed and turned

in their desks to look at each other.

I laughed, too.

And I was ten years old,

and I knew I wasn’t getting it,

and I knew I couldn’t ask,

What’s funny about that?

And I knew I couldn’t say,

You make my skin crawl.


Why remember?


Because, when he was twenty,

this same kid went to the gas station

where his friend Mikey worked,

took him to Mud Turtle Pond,

made him kneel on the ground,

made him beg.


Because I imagine the night sky,

clear, black, spangled with stars.

Pine trees, frogs, cicadas,

a cold, bottomless pond.

Two cars parked haphazardly,

engines idling, doors open,

radios murmuring or pulsing or screeching.


Because I see Mikey on his knees,

sweating and pleading.


Because I hear the kid’s accomplices:

do it come on shoot him.


Because he did.

Theresa Malphrus Welford, who grew up near Savannah, Georgia, has published poetry, creative nonfiction, book chapters, and academic articles, as well as two edited collections of poetry: The Paradelle and The Cento (both published by Red Hen Press). Theresa’s third book, Trans-Atlantic Connections: The Movement and New Formalism, will appear in Spring 2019 (Red Hen Press). Theresa and her husband, Mark Welford, happily share their home with countless rescued cats and dogs. 

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