I Do Not Smell Like Cheese

Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did 
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did 
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember. 

He said he only cried 
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one 
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said, 
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and 
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended 
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized 
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned 
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom 
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

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