Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ICE-CREAM SANDWICH, by KAREN SWENSON



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THE ICE-CREAM SANDWICH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In second grade I felt about him, and
Last Line: Relive the inexplicable in middle age.
Subject(s): Children; Love; Memory; Childhood


In second grade I felt about him, and
three other boys, quite equally, in a way
the Church identified, later, for me as lust.
He was short and square, chubby in the thigh,
with butter-colored hair. But none of this
explains why I put my vanilla ice-cream
sandwich in his pencil box which was
a work of art, its cardboard covered with green
paper stamped so that it looked like Mother's
tooled leather address book. Its little drawers
housed rows of pencils in all worldly colors.

My ice-cream oozed through levels of his cardboard,
congealing pencils in its sweet, pale soup,
and when the teacher, whose name I've forgotten
asked, "Who did this?" I erupted
into tears, fled to the girls' room
and had to be scolded out of a locked stall
to run a gauntlet of giggles. Apologies
were futile. He knew I was crazy and kept
out of reach right through high school. Even now,
perhaps, there's a man, middle-aged in his
gray, three-piece suit, who suffers from
pencil-box trauma. What was I attempting
to say in blundering, fledgling symbolism?
You melt me? I want to melt you? Was I
a seven-year-old pencil-box fetishist
or an early case of role reversal?

I've never told an analyst about this, but
saved it all these years for you, who,
since you did that bizarre thing during nap time
or in the supply closet
or under the hedge during recess, also
relive the inexplicable in middle age.





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