H e a r t   S o n s   &   H e a r t   D a u g h t e r s   of   A l l e n   G i n s b e r g

N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 4 :   A r c h i v e s   E d i t i o n






First Death

“After the first death, there is no other.”

––Dylan Thomas


On the day Mimi Schechter returned to us

we became the pack of wild animals

our parents always said we’d grow up to be.


Truthfully, we hadn’t noticed she’d been gone

for six months. Plain as the brown lunch sack

she clutched in one hand, she stood out


of our way as we did what kids do while waiting

to be scooped up by a yellow school bus:

the boys chased the girls worthy of being chased,


the girls ran shrieking in terrified joy, and the rest

of us pretended not to care that no one cared

enough about us to steal our books or pull our hair.


Mimi Schechter swayed like a small tree trembling

in the wind, her eyes wide in her pale, chalky face

looking much older than her scant seven years.


She wasn’t as I remembered her, though I did not

remember her at all. Somehow she had turned

into her own grandmother, her features faded


and her eyebrows completely gone like a lesson

on the blackboard recently erased. And her hair—

it wasn’t little kid’s hair anymore. It was


too perfect, smooth and sleek and straight,

each strand turning under her chin just so

like those high-kicking Rockettes, all in a row.


It’s a wig, I thought, and as though Danny Finkelstein could read

my mind, he gave up chasing Amy Thomasello, spun

on his heels, and snatched Mimi Schechter’s wig with a whoop


and a holler, throwing his prize straight up in the air.

Mimi Schechter’s hair hovered in the blue suburban sky

blocking out the sun for a split second before it fell like a shot


bird. Another boy caught it and gave it back

to Danny who tossed it to another kid who tossed it

to another kid, while Mimi Schechter just stood there


in all her bald-headed glory and despair. The sight

was so frightening it made someone shout

“Bowling head! Bowling head!” and not one of us


had the courage to not join in. We laughed and tossed

that wig back and forth, back and forth until someone caught

sight of our school bus rounding the corner and we all fell


into an orderly line except for Mimi Schechter who ran

home weeping. “Cry Baby! Cry Baby!” we called

as each one of us walked past Mimi Schechter’s wig


sprawled on the ground like an injured animal

run over by one of our mother’s cars.

And that was that. Mimi Schechter never came back


to school and no one knew what happened

to her until two months later when the principal

made a crackly request over the PA system


after we’d said the Pledge of Allegiance,

asking for a moment of silence for our good friend

Mimi Schechter who had just that morning


died. Died! I didn’t know anyone who was dead and I ran home

bursting with the news. “Mom, you’ll never guess!” I yelled,

as if I’d received an “A” on my spelling test.


My mother was in the kitchen, tethered to the phone

when I announced, “Mimi Schechter died!” and then collapsed

in a fit of giggles. She hung up quickly and stared


at her beast of a daughter,  now doubled over and howling

with laughter like an unhinged hyena. I deserved

the slap she gave me on behalf of Mimi Schechter


Mimi Schechter who deserved a little respect from me

Mimi Schechter whose tear-streaked face I still see

Mimi Schechter, my first death, November 18th, 1963.



[Originally published in NHS 2010, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs10/index.html.]