Ode to the Class of 2024

Timothy Tarkelly

They bring me cupcakes

and late homework, creased

from the careless, apologetic depths

of their backpacks. They bring me

jokes their brother told them and

long-winded confessions that they too

stayed up too late

to do what they were supposed to.

They bring me stories about friends

who are no longer friends, carrying hearts

that have been scarred for the very first time,

will never pump as much joy as they once did.

They bring me questions that are far too personal,

news of birthday weekends, of new and sudden

foster placements, hallway tears

and white-knuckled curses under their breath.

They bring me mistakes and poorly shod promises

of future success. They bring me

their own poems, naked of imagery,

but overflowing with raw and precocious gut,

words they’re too young to know

describe their life with dangerous precision.

They bring me their dreams

and I knight them, these guardians

of tomorrow’s smiles. I tell them “go forth,

conquer until doubt is a smoking corpse

on a far, distant, black-pebbled beach.”

They bring me pins and we hoist their hopes

on their sleeves. They bring me to my wit’s end

and a frustration that grows only one inch taller

than their volume. They bring me to supplication,

leaving thanksgiving prayers scribbled

in colored ink right under their scores.

They bring me to dry-jointed, uncomfortable

bouts of half-sleep and unending storms

of ibuprofen. They bring me whistling

to work each and every morning.

Timothy Tarkelly's work has appeared in Back Patio Press, Unstamatic, As It Ought To Be Magazine, and more. He has two collections of poetry published by Spartan Press: Luckhound (2020) and Gently in Manner, Strongly in Deed: Poems on Eisenhower (2019). When he's not writing, he teaches in Southeast Kansas.