Wednesday, January 28, 2009


It started out as a small hole,
just enough to slip a finger into
on her left sleeve near the seam. Mrs. Keen
was all riled up about something, parading
back and forth at the front of the class
lecturing rules, her captive audience
in their neat desks in perfect rows
hands behind their backs.

You must never push one another in line.
She punctuated every word with her index finger,
like she was slicing carrots in the kitchen.
You must line up neatly,
and I don’t want to hear a word
not one word
from any of you as you enter the school.
You must remain in single file.

This girl’s eyes traced the teacher’s movements
across the floor, back and forth.
She had three fingers into the hole
in her sleeve now, and a thread was
working loose. She tugged it
with her other hand and felt it begin
to unravel.

Thou shalt not play,
thou shalt not be happy,
thou shalt not eat thy sweater,
she thought, trying to suppress the urge
to giggle, but a snort snuck out

and the teacher whirled, pinning her
with her eyes. She put on a blank face
and stared innocently at the wall,
slightly over the teacher’s left shoulder.

When Mrs. Keen had safely resumed
her parade-tirade
the girl slipped her left hand
in front of her face and nibbled
on the loose sweater string. Saliva

mixed with acrylic yarn mixed with
magenta dye and the feeling between her teeth
was indescribably sensual. She wanted
to swallow but resisted the urge. She tugged
to draw out some more yarn and she chewed
and chewed

the sweater her grandma had made for her,
because you are my joy, my brown-eyed girl
and she tasted the specialness of it, the
colour chosen just for her, the warmth
and the apple smell of her grandma’s breath
that she wasn’t going to smell again
because her grandma was dead now,
in the ground

and she was just another unruly kid
in grade five without a grandma.

Rachel Westfall
January 28, 2009


Poetikat said...

At first I thought you were writing a story - well, in a way you were of course, but then I realized it was still a poem, but a very different one (how long can I make this sentence)?

This is memorable - would make an excellent book, I think. I love the connection to the sweater and the Grandma. It's really quite amazing - insight into this little girl's mind. I suppose we have to wonder what's going on in ALL of those little heads. Although, having taught JK, I can tell you, sometimes it really IS nothing.

Loved it!


Poetikat said...

By the way, the title is ideal.


RachelW said...

Kat, yeah I was torn between story-telling and poetry in this one-- I've had a few like that, some under the label She, some under Story-telling (I think?)

For some reason, this (imaginary) little girl's story really wanted to be told this morning. Though she dreamed herself up, the grade 5 tacher is real; she was my teacher, and she was very adept at making everyone feel equally unspecial.

The title... sometimes I have to think hard for a title, but this one really named itself. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Poetikat said...

I had a Grade 5 teacher named Mrs. Keenan - she was a lovely woman. I used to share my sour cream and onion chips with her at recess.
My Grade 4 teacher, however, was a wacko b$%&8!!! I walked out of her class on the second last day of school and just kept on going. Never went back.


gameover709 said...

I liked this..made me rememeber the insanity of childhood, liek eating your sweater, and miss my grandmother.

holly said...

What a dramatic, unexpected ending! The details in this are fantastic. I love the "slicing carrots in the kitchen" imagery too!

christopher said...

Rachel, I really like your story. I see the poem. I see the story. I see the loss. I see the teacher not care, teacher not built to care. I see the child tear apart the sweater. There's another poem could go off from that small destructive act. Here's one too going off what happens when adults are caught in the same place.

Dark Thoughts

Why is it you make
Me feel like a fifth grader
Sneaking my play space
Under the desk lid
Behind the girl, sits in front
Of me, and she's good
For you when I'm not.

I'm a grown up man, by God,
And you belittle me.

I will get revenge
For this feeling you give me.
I will make you pay.

RachelW said...

Kat-- good thing they let you graduate from that grade after you walked out; what a nightmare to have to repeat the experience! I had horrors at the prospect of repeating grade 6, when my parents talked about holding me back and the teacher was just horrifying.

Jorc, Holly-- thank you two...

Christopher, your poem gave me the willies; I think I've been on the receiving end of that particular emotion. That resentment.

Julie said...

I love the narrative structure you have in this poem. It is beautiful. How well you remember what it feels like to be a child. I love that sense of knowing. I swear, I have had a similar experience, which is another reason this poem is so strong. Many of us can relate. And what awesome details!! I can taste the yarn (and the colors). The apple smell of her grandma's breath is excellent and makes me feel so sad for her loss. Beautiful work.

RachelW said...

Thank you, Julie!

My son is in grade five, and I can remember being that age so well... though he has the great fortune of having an excellent teacher, one who relates to each child as a human being, delightfully unique in his own right.

Karen said...

Rachel - having spent most of my life on "the other side of the desk", I can see the child in this poem. I HAVE seen her, chewing on a string, absorbed in her experience. (I hope I was never, ever someone's Mrs. Keen)

You capture the classroom experience perfectly.

RachelW said...

Karen-- because you saw her, really SAW her, I don't believe for an instant that you were her Mrs. Keen!