Scoundrel Time

My 6th Grade Teacher

Mr. Barren
chose two boys each week
to swim with him at the downtown Y
back when it was male-only–to swim nude
in the cool chlorinated waters amid schools
of old men, their buoyant testicles and laps

without end. One girl got to sit on his lap
each Friday for the pep-talk he called Barren’s
Bulletins (or bullets) advice to succeed in school
as he pointed out the strong and the weak
among us, and how the ancient Greeks wrestled nude.
No one thought to ask him why

he did these things. Being chosen for the Y
swim or his held-hand—our own judgment would lapse
like Sadducees, who sent their sons to the nude
Greek gymnasia to exercise, or fleet-footing across barren
patches of land—anything to avoid the end-of-the-week
Sabbath rites and the effete Talmudic schools

hosted by Pharisees, who scorned schooling
unless it was Mosaic Law. Upsilon, or Y
in ancient Greek denotes, for mathematicians, a weak
number, an orphan child, one you might cradle on your lap.
We learned language games early in Barren
Hill, where we lived, till our town fathers renewed

that old link to the Revolution, renaming the nude
hill after the Marquis de Lafayette along with our school,
where the butterfly-stroking-ex-Olympian Mr. Barren
continued to teach us. You might wonder why
we put up with him, even lapping
up his put-downs throughout the school week

when it was meant to keep us weak
and pliant, and if he’d had his way, I’m sure, nude
for indoor recess. And those endless laps
around the honeysuckle-strangled school
perimeter for punishment. And why
I miss the time I spent with Mr. Barren.


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