Porkpie Hat – The Value of X


Ms. Allen shows us a video of what it looks like when bad cells divide. There are posters of smokers? lungs and classroom rules. We make collages of cancer symptoms.


Outside the window thin, dark branches of unidentifiable autumn trees are being whipped around by a wicked north wind.

A car is reversing in the parking lot, transforming a dirty rain puddle into a pool of liquid rubies. The faint sounds of ?don’t Fear the Reaper? are leaking through the car’s open window. Somewhere a raven is cawing and a baby is screaming.

The clouds are monsters with sad, sensitive faces. The value of X remains unclear.


We learn how to say grapefruit and cake. We establish that a black cat is either above or below a certain table. We learn many conjugated versions of aller, without actually doing it. One of the cloudfaces has swallowed a thin sliver of pale morning moon, and is holding it in its belly like a radiant fetus.

Phys. Ed.

We practise indifference and dribbling a basketball. I can’t help but notice that Karla Kaake has been wearing those same green shorts since fifth grade.


We sneak into the woods for chocolate bars and cigarettes. Daisy is pissed off about always lending me smokes. Dave saves a dragonfly from a spider’s web. There are rusted engine parts and a car’s back seat in the dried-out creek bed. We pretend we’re driving to Mexico, the radio on, the wind in our faces, a deck of Export A sitting on the dash.


There’s a sub. We break thermometers in the sink and chase the shivery little mercury blobs with the tips of our fingers. Dave steals a frog from a jar of formaldehyde. Later that day, during lunch break, he will cut off one of its claws with a penknife, and put it in the nozzle of the drinking fountain.


I write a disturbing poem about unexpected mutations. We hear a scream from the direction of the drinking fountain. When Mr. Bakker leaves the room to investigate, I steal the bulb from his film projector.


There is this new girl in the class, named Piri. It’s her first day, so she doesn’t yet know that Dave and I are losers. Her breath smells of cigarettes and peppermint. In the drawing, there is a girl who may or may not be her, standing naked on the hood of a Ford Falcon. She is brandishing a scimitar in her left hand.

At the bottom of the picture, there is a sentence written in Czech. I will spend many years of my life searching for a translation.