W. Todd Kaneko_Metalhead

Metalhead’s Pledge

From the rear wall, Metalhead looks at the back of a girl’s head in History class. She is the only black girl in class and always sits in front, right next to the American flag. They are learning about Civil Rights, how one man had a dream and taught America about the content of a person’s character. Metalhead thinks about how he hasn’t said the Pledge of Allegiance since second grade—he just mouths the words to a song he once sang with his father on a car trip to Saginaw about dragons and smoking grass. After class, Metalhead will eat a slice of pizza and get high in the back parking lot. After school, his father won’t discuss layoffs at the auto plant, and when the family moves to a more remote suburb, there will be no conversation about white flight or a neighborhood’s changing hues as it breaks and corrodes. He won’t ask why his friends play air guitar along with Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page but never Jimi Hendrix because one day he will sell used cars and a woman he remembers from high school will ask to take a rickety Ford Tempo for a test drive. He won’t remember her name, but will recall how she once looked at him that way a child looks at an injured animal before learning that people aren’t supposed to reveal how they feel inside. He won’t let her drive the Tempo, guiding her to a car with a sturdier axle, a truthful odometer. This will happen decades after that girl in the front row looks back at the clock ticking over Metalhead’s desk. Her eyes fall on him for a moment before she turns back around. Metalhead places his hand on his heart and discovers it still beating.

Originally published by New South: A Journal of Art &Literature

Photo by Rubén Rodriguez on Unsplash

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the poetry books This Is How the Bone Sings and The Dead Wrestler Elegies, and co-author of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology. He is a Kundiman fellow and teaches at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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