Academy of the Holy Names, 2001

Sliver-like, we huddled into corners, eyes turned
toward the teacher, who, arms folded, could
not find the words—How do you tell children

that below them their city is burning?
Throughout the day girls kept disappearing.
What could it have been, stalking hallways

like some sick specter—A flu, a terrible
malady that had crawled between pink walls
and erupted into a subtle culling. Our hands

wiped sweat onto skirt pleats, mouths
open and whispering about who had
gone, who would go next, the doors

bright and unaware as each ponytail
flashed away into afternoon. We found
respite in bathrooms, lifting hemlines

to examine the soft fuzz—A competition
of blood, fingers dutifully unwrapping
the tampon for examination. This was

our shell. Our interregnum from
Sister Barbara or Mary Frances, who
had set down their rulers and flipped

on the radio, muffled the sound of
screaming with their garments, and
suspended class. Outside, the birds

still nested against brick, eyes faint
in sun and feathered full. The sound
of Albany ticked against traffic, distant

horn. And us, our bodies closeted behind
frosted glass. Did they notice the precipice
of their reticence, the Sisters gathering outside

the chapel, watching us with weathered
faces as we scrambled between bells,
laughing nervously into ourselves as

we became more and more aware
of the tension, the static that sparked
whenever a girl's name echoed over

speaker. Did they feel the sharpness
of the edge, the weight of the mallet, as if
we were all moving toward some singular

moment of ending, our infantile skin
shedding under the weight of fathers
who burst into halls panicked and fearful.

By afternoon we were only a few, ears
pricked, the classroom dogged by heat and
warning. I can't recall the exact moment

the words shook into being, much like
I can't recall my own father's face when
he stood breathless on our porch, the capital

sweating off him, skin marked by a fury
of questions, of the need for reason. As
if reason could have stifled the silence

that spread through us, the curtains
parting and revealing outward a formless
thing, a black shroud that urged us into

ourselves, seeking something bright
to grasp onto—The Sisters pointing toward
the crucifix, begging us to pray, and our

mouths slackening as we stared outside
and wondered how, in this summer, this
calmness, we could make sense of anything.

Clare Paniccia, born and raised in upstate New York, is currently PhD student in poetry at Oklahoma State University, where she also works as an Associate Editor for the Cimarron Review. In 2016 she was a finalist for the Indiana Review, Sonora Review, and Nimrod Poetry Prizes. Her poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and an AWP Intro Journals Award, and her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Indiana Review, Grist, TriQuarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She can be found online at Follow her @ClarePaniccia. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761