John L. Stanizzi is author of the collections – Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, and Chants. His newest collection, Sundowning, will be out this year with Main Street Rag. John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, The Cortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Rust & Moth, Connecticut River Review, Hawk & Handsaw, and many others. His work has been translated into Italian and appeared in many journals in Italy. His translator is Angela D’Ambra. John has read and venues all over New England, including the Mystic Arts Café, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Hartford Stage, and many others. For many years, John coordinated the Fresh Voices Poetry Competition for Young Poets at Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT. He is also a teaching artist for the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud. A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT and he lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry.
Fifth Grade – St. Mary’s School – 1959-60 – Sister Richard Marie
The school across the street from St. Mary’s was called Second North. That’s where I went for kindergarten, my first year of what would become a junkyard of school years.
Second North was closed for renovation. They were putting an addition on. The school’s parking lot was covered with stacks and stacks of new frog bricks, those crisp, sharp bricks with holes in them.
Those two or three minutes of my life feel to me as if they had been lived by someone else, some other, insane person who I happened to observe in shock from afar.
I have no clear recollection of crossing the street from St. Mary’s, over Route 5, and onto the Second North property. And I certainly have no lucid memory of “deciding” what I was going to do. I can’t even say, “Yes, I remember doing that.”
But I did it. I’m almost 100% sure.
It was a very sunny day; I do remember that without question. It was the kind of sunny day that when the sun struck your eyes just at the right angle the whole world seemed to vanish. There would be long rays of sun and painfully bright light, but nothing that you could distinguish or name.
What I do remember very plainly is the sound of a window shattering the peaceful quiet of a late October afternoon on Route 5 in East Hartford, Connecticut. I remember birds screeching and erupting from the trees around the school – so many birds. In this case, at this time of year, mostly grackles and starlings and red-winged black birds, so many they approached murmuration. So many that the result of their outburst was an all-consuming scream.
I have no recollection picking up a second brick. None.
There were probably cars traveling Route 5, but I don’t recollect being aware of them. Perhaps someone walked past on the sidewalk, but I did not see them. There was the school. The bricks. Me. And nothing else. The whole scene seemed to be being played out in assemblage, ala Joseph Cornell. There was a school. Large piles of bricks. Some birds in a sky. A lone boy standing at the site. Nothing else.
There is a muddled memory of a second brick leaving my hand, I think. I seem to also recall a quarrel going on in my brain, way down deep inside in a place I could not reach, one part screaming, What the hell are you doing, and why!? Stop! Stop this now!
Another part of my brain, perhaps even farther down was cheering me on; Go ahead, Johnnie. There is no one around? Do it again!
The glass of the second window hung motionless in the air, absolutely silent and still, suspended, shattered. I stared at it. It looked beautiful. Unreal. Almost like a painting of a disassembled glass puzzle.
The world was empty. I was standing in the parking lot of Second North School, surrounded by bricks.
Eventually I heard the impact of a brick, perhaps the first, maybe the second. I cannot say for sure. Then there was the loud, smashing, explosion of one window coming apart and collapsing to the pavement. Followed by a second window shattering, collapsing.
That was it.
There was no one there but me. I had been leaving St. Mary’s late after having to stay after for some infraction of the Holy rules.
I crossed the street alone.
I didn’t feel well, I remember. I felt sleepy. Everything in my peripheral vision was blurred. I was being guided by something that had crawled into me, orchestrated this thing that had just occurred, and then crawled back out.
At least I think it did. I used to pray that it crawled out.
I walked to the Second North parking lot. I felt half asleep and standing in a world that was entirely distorted, except for what was directly in front of me.
I’m almost certain that I picked up a brick. Threw it through one of the new windows. I stood and waited for it shatter. I never stopped looking at the building, though I do believe that I reached down, picked up a second brick, and heaved it through another window. I stood and watched that one, too.
At some point, I turned and began walking home. It was then, almost immediately, that I began to feel sicker.
Had anyone had seen me?
What had just happened?
Did I do such a thing?
Nothing ever came of it. I guess no one saw me. Or I didn’t do it. I don’t recall waiting until there were no cars passing or waiting until there were no kids leaving St. Mary’s on the other side of the street.
I guess that thing had crawled out from inside me. I didn’t feel it anymore, I don’t think. Those few moments have always been profoundly bewildering and mysterious.
Did I really do that? And Why?