Erasers

mpm's 1st day of schoolIn two hours the school bus will pull up 100 feet from my door and the youngest kids in the neighborhood will climb on board with their new shoes and their little backpacks. I remember so clearly the day our youngest here did that.

Below is a poem evoking a school-related custom from when we ourselves were children. 

I too had nuns for teachers. I too found myself punished for what seemed to me unpreventable bursts of whispering, day after day.

Once, when I was eight, the nun made me go stand in the back of the First Grade classroom since I was ‘such a baby,’ she said. And once, nay, twice, nay, more than twice, I was sent outside there on the grounds of that convent school in Roxbury MA, to clap the erasers.

Mary Jo Salter takes us back here to those memories or freedom and freedom’s opposite in this lovely poem,  “Erasers.”

As punishment, my father said, the nuns
       would send him and the others
out to the schoolyard with the day’s erasers.

Punishment? The pounding symphony
       of padded cymbals clapped
together at arm’s length overhead

(a snow of vanished alphabets and numbers
       powdering their noses
until they sneezed and laughed out loud at last)

was more than remedy, it was reward
       for all the hours they’d sat
without a word (except for passing notes)

and straight (or near enough) in front of starched
       black-and-white Sister Martha,
like a conductor raising high her chalk

baton, the only one who got to talk.
       Whatever did she teach them?
And what became of all those other boys,

poor sinners, who had made a joyful noise?
       My father likes to think,
at seventy-five, not of the white-on-black

chalkboard from whose crumbled negative
       those days were never printed,
but of word-clouds where unrecorded voices

gladly forgot themselves. And that he still
       can say so, though all the lessons,
most of the names, and (he doesn’t spell

this out) it must be half the boys themselves,
       who grew up and dispersed
as soldiers, husbands, fathers, now are dust.

  

 

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