In Which I Excuse Freddy Mercury from PE

All year he’d been standing in the hallway

to the pool, the painted lines around his eyes


growing more and more lonely, and the voice

in his throat growing low and soft like


a kitten done mewling for milk,

grown into a new way of living.


In the hall the boy swayed gently

from side to side, like a pine in a stand


of pines at the edge of a coastal city.

He looked at me imploringly.


All he did was look at me.

You see, a long time ago, I was his friend


because he loved me, and that love stayed tender

even though I did not love him in return.


But the note was a kind of love. The forgery.

I held a piece of paper up against the lockers,


wrote in my best cursive: Please excuse

Freddy from swimming today. I wanted


to say, He does not feel like undressing.

He does not feel like ruining his make-up.


They wanted him to peel off his clothes,

get in the water, and put his head under


where the sound of the other boys’ feet and legs,

their knobs of elbows and burls of knees,


would hold afloat their glistening torsos,

their ribs inside of goose-bumped skin.


And before his eyes a cloud would pass,

the inky whisper of a giant squid.


The water would go dark, the whole

natatorium. The principal’s office.


The car ride home, where our mothers—

the same age that I am now—


would not speak to the confusion of their sorrows.

In the principal’s office, they made me say


I’m sorry. But I wasn’t sorry then,

and I’m not sorry now. The permission


I gave might have been a lie. But look,

I gave it anyway.

Margot Kahn is the author of a biography, Horses That Buck (University of Oklahoma, 2008), and a chapbook, A Quiet Day with the West on Fire (Floating Bridge Press, 2021). Twice nominated for The Pushcart Prize, her poems appear in the Hopkins Review, New England Review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere.