While we folded breaking news in light
blue ink—Anita likes Matt! Do you? Yes
or no?—Misses Trouser-Pants of home-ec told
in her reedy, quaking voice that Nylon Won
The War!, and we snapped the instant laugh
of preteens, but I privately longed for more.
Nylons ran, tore—how could fabric win
and which war? I pictured black, cartoonish bombs
sparking at the wick, fitted into pantyhose
like undigested rodents in the tracheas
of snakes. It’s true, she cried but didn’t detail
the famine of Japanese silk,
the ladies’ legs gone bare for nylon tents,
flak vests, tires and shoe-stitching resistant
to rotting. Her eight kitchen stations
were otherworldly old stages for us
to play a people who measured every ounce
of flour, counted every spoon. The serving knife,
the spatula, the rolling pin and sifter
each laid over a labeled outline
of itself. Our war was Desert Storm. It cost
us little more than TV seldom inter-
rupted (its name, revised from yielding Shield!,
would land onscreen to preface khaki ground
combatants) so we said in so many years
we could be drafted, but the yellow-ribbon
stickers we’d adhered to our binders
couldn’t teach the cost of things. Their faux-
serrated ends conveyed a trite note—come home,
soldiers—that no one passed, and this marked
the beginning of it: the vaguest sense
that the carpeting and couch cushions of a given
living room were too plush, that the skies
above our strip malls were too cloud-splotched
to know what fell on other countries’ schools,
that we needed too little to make pain
much matter, though we sung into our fists
the hit of a bald Irish woman who’d ripped
the pope’s picture: I can eat my dinner
in a fancy restaurant, but nothing,
I said nothing can take away these blues.
Which is why, looking back, I loved her—
Misses Trouser-Pants. Someone rolled the dough,
another memorized the map of a table setting,
and I brewed the tea for my eighth-grade family
of four. One bag, two cups! she commanded
and I squeezed every last bit of orange pekoe,
recouped for an era of need only known
to teacher. Oh pie-from-scratch, nothing compares
to you. The tea-cups replied with a chink.
Around us, flowers on the wallpaper descended
like little soldiers with polymer parachutes,
floating to earth in safety. Then we laid
each item in its outline again.
Her bleached-raw finger tapped air above
the tools, her thin lips murmuring the count.
She nodded. We passed. We’d preserved each thing.
The tea had tasted like blah and I’d loved it.