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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First Day of School 3pm

It was the first day of school, and at 2:00 in the afternoon there was NO ONE in the supermarket. They were all out meeting the schoolbus.

One half hour later, however, my local Staples was simply jammed with kids and grownups alike.

On the way back from Staples, at the classic ‘school’s-out’ hour of 3:00, I saw four kids shrieking with joy and running like mad along the sidewalk, raincoats tucked in around their bouncing backpacks because the day had cleared and it was now 84 degrees out. They were, as best as I could tell:

  1. A Second Grader
  2. A Third Grader
  3. A Fourth Grader and, on the Fourth Grader’s back, having the piggyback ride of her life….
  4. An especially tiny First Grader.

I smiled so wide I thought I couldn’t smile any wider.

And then I saw a toddler and a kindergartener standing with the family dog and their mother, getting ready to greet another galloping schoolchild just heading in their direction from down St. Mary’s way.

To mark the triumphant return of this schoolchild, whom I judged to be around ten, the kindergartener had lifted the pup up on its hind legs and was waving its paw in greeting. Then the schoolchild waved, the mother waved, the kindergartner freed one hand from the puppy to wave too and the toddler popped his thumb from his mouth and gaped.

Yup. The first day of school is a mighty day, no matter how you slice it.