Bloodying August Polito’s Nose

by James Bertolino

I was a freshman in high school, a “minim”

at St. Bede Academy, and for no good reason

bloodied August Polito’s nose.

It felt like a lump of pink clay to my fist.

He staggered back, then stood there, eyes wide

and blinking, while two thick streams of blood oozed

down his lip. I was satisfied to have hurt someone

I knew wouldn’t hit me. I remember

the Summer I was fifteen and killed

a snapping turtle. The entire shell was buried

in the sandy shore of a shallow river

I’d waded through. Only the head protruded,

and when I stepped too close, those ferocious jaws

lunged and snapped. They missed my bare foot,

but in retaliation I swung my hatchet again

and again, creating a bloody stew.

Only after I pulled the ruined carcass free,

to survey my passionate work, did I see fat yellow eggs

the size of marbles. I gasped, crouched

alone there with my shame. The same

shame I should have felt for the evil

I’d done to the soft, egg-shaped Polito,

who with his raw complexion and

thick-lipped smile wanted only

to be my friend.

From Finding Water, Holding Stone, Cincinnati, Ohio: Cherry Grove Collections, 2009, page 53.