1280 Johnson Avenue
Home of the Vikings. Red brick walls, yellowing fields. Classrooms upon classrooms. Cars honking in the parking lot during the 8 AM rush to class. Scattered bicycles. The morning bell and teachers standing in front of the classroom, marking students tardy. Teachers collecting homework, passing out pop quizzes. Textbooks. More textbooks. AP and SAT test prep books, TI-84 graphing calculators. Back-up calculators and back-up batteries. Flowers in the yellowing fields. Coffee and Monsters. Double-shot espresso. Crumpled papers.
Crumpled papers streaked with red marks because you started hyperventilating in the middle of the test and you forgot all the formulas and what’s wrong with you aren’t Asians supposed to be good at math? Advil. Don’t think of when he broke up with you over text. You didn’t understand what love is and shouldn’t you be studying more and damn it it was all stupid puppy love anyway.
Join Speech and Debate and FBLA and Science Bowl. Learn how to code. If you don’t like coding, make yourself like it. Do you understand the meaning of “practical?” Which means stop writing that damn poetry and do you understand that your immigrant parents came to Silicon Valley for a reason. Panic attacks. Crumpled papers. Red marks. Always do the extra credit. Triple check your work. Check your units. Check your sig figs. Check your sig figs, this is not a joke. Review your notes while standing in the lunch line and are you seriously going to eat the grilled cheese sandwich again? Keep your head down when walking past him and boys in general. Review your notes again. Ace your next math test.
Home of the Vikings. The Bay catching flame, slowly burning. Sickly gray skies, smog and dust in the air for seven days. We covered ourselves in masks, burned our tongues on grilled cheese sandwiches, watched as the construction started and they tore down the quad. Remember the stairs where you shot your video project for Mr. Seike’s class last year? You played Hester Prynne and you had to redo the second scene three times. You sewed a makeshift scarlet letter and stabbed yourself with the needle a couple of times. Remember how you’d all gather around the rusty yellow table underneath the gnarly oak tree with a bent limb? Once a bird pooped on Lily’s head and you all ran to the bathroom to get paper towels. Lily cried a little, then couldn’t stop laughing.
Now you are searching for the yellow table, searching for your friends, their crinkled laughter. You are saying their names, writing poems for them, hanging their pictures on your walls. You are searching for their traces, removing their pictures from your walls.
Home of the Vikings. The new quad is slowly rising, making you think of the ebb and flow of weeks gone by. We are boarding the San Francisco Hornblower, the wind and rain stinging our faces. You didn’t think he could pull off a red vest. He ties a corsage around your wrist and you nearly stab him when pinning his boutonniere. Underneath his umbrella, you sneak glances of him, feeling nothing but the warmth of his smile.
Red brick walls, yellowing fields. We breathed in dust and more dust. We received our college acceptance letters, cried a little. We linked arms and shouted the lyrics to Old Town Road after we walked across the podium. Fists unclenched, we tossed our decorated graduation caps into the air. Hugs. Damn it, hold back the tears. In a sea of caps, you search and search for him. “Closer, closer!” his dad yells as he swings his arm around your shoulder for a photo. Snuggled around the bonfire, we felt the warmth of this place. The warmth making us think that this is the closest thing we’ve ever felt to love. Love, real and palpable, the best kind of love. 1280 Johnson Avenue. We have made it our home.
Joyce Ker is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University whose poetry has appeared in TAB Journal of Poetry & Poetics, Tule Review, Louisville Review, and Boxcar Poetry Review. She is a California Arts Scholar and alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. Ker has been nominated for the Best New Poets anthology and the Pushcart Prize.