The Mount Calvary Pencil Wars

At Christmastime in sixth grade I gave out
three dozen Berol Black Warrior pencils,
gifts for my classmates. (All the boys

loved me one whole day.) Johnny Cox
was Pencil Fighting Champ and, being a champ,
had a restless urge to fight. Half his two-pouch

book bag housed his trophies: Warrior pencils
cracked, splintered, fractured, some
boot-smashed in a conniption of joy

upon winning. Once, Sister Jane caught him
in her supply cabinet with as many pencils
as he could slide under the elastic of his briefs.

Friends lined up to challenge him at recess:
they held their pencils tight at both ends
and Johnny went down the line breaking

each one. You have to have the right
flick of the wrist
, he boasted, brandishing
the Warrior pencil he’d already nicknamed General.

You see them battle scars? he smiled, missing
one front tooth. I see, I said, touching the pocked
lacquer, turning it to make it shine.