Square Dancing with Sister Robert Claire
by Michael Cleary
First week of junior high, Kel wised off to her
same as he'd done to the one all year before.
I can still see it. Her so short, the uppercut put
all her weight under the whack of her pudgy fist
against the V of his chin. Kel arching a back-dive, landing
legs up, desks dominoing halfway up the row.
Sweet Jesus, she was tough, but bless her the first one
who liked boys best and didn't carry a grudge.
But she sure as hell wasn't one of the almost pretty nuns
you could almost imagine out there in the world.
Picture pie-faced Lou from Abbott and Costello,
lumpy-looking in any duds but now add a thick black
floor-length habit with dozens of folds, hidden pockets.
Around her waist rosary beads big as marbles
dangling to where knees would be.
Hair, ears, and neck under a stiff white wimple,
she waddled the aisles like a wooly toad.
One week she dragged us into the gym
and the alien world of square dancing—and girls.
Shedding blazers, ties, and shoes, we were cornered.
In sweat socks and knee socks, we shuffled like prisoners,
allemande left and dosido stranger than dominus vobiscum.
Robert Claire stood on a chair trying to clap rhythm
into our dumb feet, sometimes leaping down, landing
light as a blackbird. She'd skip and twirl among us
arm over arm until her habit billowed like a gown,
face aglow, God's clumsy children urged toward lessons
of possibility and romance she brought from a life before.
Reluctantly, we learned to move together, touch, let go