10 Minutes Til a Quarter After 5
Jeffrey W. Peterson

is when I get up for school at sixteen,
a tenth grader and not really registering much.
Blinking awake back then, I got ready on autopilot,
put my hand on the front door knob only to realize
it’s 5:05, two hours too early. I blame daylight savings,
but know it’s only my old habit. It takes three alarms
to wake for work now at thirty-one;
I set them all wrong.
So I’m writing about time because it’s my weakest subject. It throws me.
I’m always late, getting ready
long after I’d meant to leave.

The cicadas the summer going into Mrs. Russell’s
fourth grade class wake me with their whirr
and I sleepily try to talk my inner critic
out of bathing since I’m already drenched in sweat,
and will be throughout the day.
The Peterson house this season is always thick wool,
so you sleep on top of the bedding, in underwear if anything at all.
My Dad holds out on AC as long as possible.
Says, “Crack a window,” as if the cool is just lingering,
waiting to be invited in. I don’t know when it will come—
maybe at dusk, when Westbridge Court
and Circle drape themselves in a lower dew point.
I wonder if everyone feels the humidity
the same way since we don’t even feel time
the same.
I’m still writing about it because it’s my weakest subject.
It constructs me.

I’m static sometimes,
thinking of miles as the minutes I need to drive them.
In what used to be the middle of my life
sits the last time I see my Mom alive, yet I hug her
like it won’t be the last time, play Star Fox in her hospice room
like I’ll never see it again, argue with Kim over Super Nintendo plastic
like it means something. It won’t be the last time I hear of hospice care
but it will be the last time I visit this room. And I still confuse it all:
if Mom dies in ‘98 and I’m in the fifth grade, but born in ’88,
does that make me nine or ten or eleven if I’m a Capricorn;
do we carry the one if we are never zero?

I’m writing a poem about time
because it’s my weakest subject. It derails me.
I’m often speeding, calculating the distance
I need to cover and if there’s enough to make up any time.
Dad corrects me, says it doesn’t work that way.
But I speed anyway. As a six-year-old first grader,
I pick Mom’s orange emperor tulips for a girl I love,
but they wilt before I even get to school.
I try again the next day and the next. All dead.
I finally settle on gifting my favorite book,
can barely read it anyway, I just like its look and feel.
Small and square, matte white, a beige bear on the cover.
I’m writing a poem about time because it’s my weakest subject.
It confuses me. I’m often adding fifteen or thirty minutes to my schedule,
banking on enough time to buffer the lateness.

Anytime I struggle with a concept in grade school,
my parents are the ones to catch me up. In the second grade,
I’m seven and a failure at Xeroxed analog clock questions.
Dad pulls our wind-up clock from the wooden mantel
and quizzes me. For how long, I don’t know.
Eventually, his index finger winds the short hand
until it parts the five and six, the long hand pointing at the one,
but 6:01 is incorrect and I don’t know how to get it right,
though habit tells me X-Men will be on FOX soon
and that’s what really matters
to me.


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