When Joe Flunked His I.Q. Test

Joe didn't know enough to be afraid

of tests; they were no different from tying

his shoes. He feared the unknown: like dying,

going to heaven or hell, being made

to enter dark places alone. This test,

with all its ups and downs, its ins and outs,

its twists and turns, its certainties and doubts,

was pure confection compared with the rest,

a piece of cake with frosting, one to make

his mouth water, his scalp tingle, his mind

soar. So he cut it into bits and downed

it all, bite after bite, before the break

for snacks. His teacher, Miss Deaf-dumb-and-blind,

took his score to the principal, who frowned


at our Mom: “There must have been something wrong

with his form, perhaps the master showed through,”

he intoned, “and luck has been known to skew

results.” “Some children know the words to a song

after the first go-round,” replied Mom, quick

to point out exceptions to the rule, she

being one. They agreed to retest. He

would repeat; she had lived with his logic

since day one, and felt she'd paid her dues.

This time the school would have to deal with him

as an equal. This time, Joe, all alone,

picked up the pace a bit, driving the screws

to teacher and principal, who stood, prim

as couplets, overseeing him atone


for unspecified sins: being too smart,

or quick on the draw, or beyond their sway.

He sent his pencil flying: “Hip-hooray!”

They must have thought he'd dropped it, the dart

hitting the floor instead of the bull's-eye,

forget the target. This time through, he'd taxed

his brain's reserves. Mom's jubilation waxed,

while teacher and principal, with a sigh,

dismissing the score as somehow compromised,

sank into a slump. It wasn't Joe's forte

to stand up and be counted. The only way

you'd get him to fight was if you surprised

him at an awkward moment. He'd resort

to theatrics to deflect or allay


your suspicions. The overriding blame

was always Joe's. He'd lead a make-believe

parade of clowns with mischief up his sleeve,

or put the great Houdini's act to shame

with his escapes. His teachers saw a glint

of brilliance here and there, a random spark

kicked clear across the measureless and dark

expanse of deepest space, as steel met flint

in Joe's hearth, but nothing to prepare them

for his flair. He'd lulled them into thinking

his less-than-stellar status was his fault,

when it was theirs and the school's stratagem

to make certain, when it came to drinking

from the well of knowledge, they called a halt


when anyone went on a bender (Joe's

other middle name, besides Eugene). Rules

atrophy when exercised by fools

like these. His black marks, stacked like dominoes

in a box, rose above the rim and spilled

over. He scattered the chits in his draft,

after breaking them to bits, and he laughed,

much as he had when he'd played Hansel, thrilled

to know bread crumbs weren't used just for stuffing

turkeys, and could be strewn willynilly

on stage without getting him in trouble.

The principal clapped, but he was bluffing.

In his fantasy, he slapped Joe silly

till the pin-drop silence burst his bubble.


While Joe, footloose and fancy-free, skylarked,

the rest of us fell into ranks and files,

marched to the principal's drummer, our smiles

as uniform as a youth choir's, our pride barked

like a shin, stubbed like a toe, red, and black-

and-blue. We had our differences; brothers

do. But always, I saw aspects others

missed. Whimsy spilling from his haversack,

a passion for life unmatched in this age

of conformist mediocrity, lust

in its myriad forms. Joe overdid,

convinced he had a destiny, a page

in Bartlett's Famous Quotations, a bust

in the Hall of Fame. He made a good bid.