“Oh, not her class!
She’s strict, she’s straight—she smells!”
This litany became our welcome
to class English V—early American Literature—
and when we met
this little ramrod figure—a pole within a square—
her hair like twigs––a veritable heron’s nest—
and sat in dubious silence.
And over months
she questioned, made us answer, made us question
what we had gleaned of Thoreau’s heart
of Emerson’s “tin ear”
of Hawthorn’s corseted New England
and Melville’s seas
of Poets Lowell and Longfellow
until our sense of who and what
had whittled, shaped and molded values,
and who defined a culture rich in metaphor
illusion, dreams and puritanical rigidity––
a culture we could share
because we felt its bones in place.
I found it didn’t matter
how she gestured with her arms and body
how, when excited, she would whirl
to emphasize a point
her face aglow.
I drank in all her love for words,
her strange digressions of wonder
into Middle English poetry:
until we rode those lost, lone ships
through iceberg seas, and heard the black-backed gulls
and terns cry out our loneliness.
She became for me the very essence
of her passionate grasp
of what all literature could be:
a love song to Man’s myriad masks and myths
his faults, mistakes and growths,
his honor, pain, and reaching––compassion,
and on occasion,
his immersion through mysticism