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When I fought Ryan in the cafeteria I only hit him
three times before Mr. Coleman grabbed my shoulder

and pushed me against the wall. You’re too old for this,
he told me. Someone’s going to start carrying

a gun, a knife. And later, in high school, after Pete
sold me fake pills, I was the one who walked to the park

with a blade in my pocket. I was ready to be handcuffed,
to be taken away in a bloody shirt, to stand in the light

while he screamed, but when I turned the last corner
the courts were all empty. Only yellow grass, fallen leaves.

I waited till the sun settled behind the trees, the knife folded
in my hand. The next day I learned he’d been arrested

stealing some woman’s car. And then after church one day—
this was later, years later—my mom and I stopped for groceries

and Pete was walking to his car holding a little boy’s hand.
He nodded as we passed and I smiled, gave a little wave.



Caleb Nolen completed his MFA at the University of Virginia and has received support from Blue Mountain Center and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where he was a work-study scholar. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Fence, Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in the Shenandoah Valley, where he is working on his first book.




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