This is what I remembered yesterday, in the middle of poetry class at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop (AWW): Mrs. Greene. She was my 4th and 5th grade teacher, and she was short and had smoke- and pepper-colored hair. When she was frustrated that some kid was talking while she was trying to teach, she would slip a shoe off her foot and grab it by holding the thick chunk of heel in her hand. Then she would hurl the shoe at the offending student, who had to duck to miss it. (After so many years, Mrs. Greene had good aim.) “I’m going to jump down your throat and dance on your liver!”
I was a good student, an I-don’t-talk-in-class student, unless I got called on. I revered Mrs. Greene, and I think she liked me. I was obedient and respectful, and I always did my homework. In 4th and 5th grade, that meant a lot to teachers who had to contend with squirmy students, restless to tear around at recess. I was the type of kid who preferred to read Encyclopedia Brown books in the stacks of the school library rather than chase balls or boys.
Yesterday, at the AWW, our teacher was talking about all the things a poem can do: tell a story, evoke an image, bring up an emotion, teach, reveal, hurt, uplift—this list goes on and on. He showed us two poems that two poets had each written about themselves, and then he asked us to write poems about ourself in five minutes. All sorts of bits of my past came through: bad 80’s pop ballads (that I still love), contra dancing, the color pink, a brown curly-haired dog, etc. I guess Mrs. Greene was waiting to emerge, waiting to fling her shoe at some unsuspecting kid in the back. I’m glad she came back to me, even if in a flash. That’s what writing can do: bring back the unexpected.