upon the passing of the actor Robert Hegyes
Epstein, you always had a note
from your mother. It stated
the reason why you missed
a test or didn’t have your home-
work. You unfolded it like a hymnal.
It was always signed Epstein’s mother.
I want to believe you didn’t write
those notes yourself.
I also tend to believe my students,
no matter what they tell me – printer
opted for early retirement; notebook
initiated pre-dawn break from backpack
and hid like fugitive in trunk of best
friend’s car; cousin encountered freak
accident with speeding dirigible; I’m just
going through some stuff I can’t tell
In fact, I prefer when students don’t
have notes from their mothers. I like
it better when the student wears a reason
like a sweater knit by no one but himself.
Epstein, you were allegedly half-Jew,
half Puerto-Rican, with an afro large
enough to contain both contested home-
lands. You weren’t suave like Vinny Barbarino
or the finger-snapping Freddy Boom Boom
Washington. You didn’t shake the room
with your bone-rattling equine laugh a lá
Arnold Horshack. You sported an afro,
a jeans jacket, a bandana in your back
pocket and notes from your mother.
Your show aired Wednesday nights.
After the first season, I watched it
I was in elementary school in the late
seventies, my attendance – gold standard.
I lived in the suburbs and If I didn’t do
my homework, I never looked to my mother
to prop me up like a faux saloon in a Holly-
Maybe I wasn’t sure anyone loved me enough
to lie for me. Maybe that’s why I now believe
the students who stand in front of me with misted
eyes and broken printers. Epstein is dead this morning.
Age sixty. Heart attack. Somewhere a mother writes
notes that aren’t true. Somewhere a teacher reads them.
Somewhere, Epstein, you knew what I know. What matters
isn’t truth. What matters is it was you, not your mother,
proffering your letter from your hand directly to the hand
of your teacher. Standing there, in front of your classmates,
hoping, wishing he’d believe.
~ ~ ~
Jeff Kass teaches Creative Writing and English Literature at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor MI and directs the Literary Arts Program at Ann Arbor’s Teen Center The Neutral Zone. His poems, stories and essays have been published in numerous literary reviews, newspapers, magazines and anthologies including The Ann Arbor News, The Ann Arbor Chronicle, The Ann Arbor Observer, The Georgetown Review, The Wayne Literary Review, Anderbo, Hobart, Blood Lotus, Defenestration, Barnwood, Stone’s Throw, The Smoking Poet, Amarillo Bay, Bull Men’s Fiction, Writecorner, Nebo, Third Wednesdays, Midwestern Gothic, and The Spoken Word Revolution Redux. His debut short story collection Knuckleheads was selected by Independent Publishers as the Gold Medal Winning Best Short Fiction Collection of 2011 and his debut poetry collection My Beautiful Hook-nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in fall of 2014.