'All his calculations secretly yearning away from algebra'

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How fascinated a young person can be with the secret lives of his or her teachers. I left junior high — middle school today — more than 60 years ago but still I occasionally wonder about the private lives of my algebra teacher, my science teacher, my English teachers, whose deep and abiding privacy I would have done anything to break through. Here’s a poem by Fleda Brown from her University of Nebraska Press selected poems, The Woods Are On Fire.



by Fleda Brown

What happened was, when we weren’t looking
Mr Selby married Miss Lewis.
We tried to think of it, tiptoed Mr Selby,
twirling the edges of blackboard numbers
like the sweet-pea tendrils of his hair,
all his calculations secretly
yearning away from algebra, toward
Miss Lewis, legs like stone pillars
in the slick cave of the locker room,
checking off the showered, the breasted,
flat-chested. All this, another world
we never dreamed of inside the bells,
the changing of classes:
Selby and Lewis, emerging
from rooms 4 and 16, holding hands
like prisoners seeing the sky after all those years.
“Bertha,” he says. “Travis,” she says.
The drawbridge of the hypotenuse opens,
the free throw line skates forward,
the old chain of being transcended
in one good leap, worn floor creaking
strange as angels. In homeroom, the smell of
humans, rank, sprouting, yet this hope for us all.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Fleda Brown, 'Fayetteville Junior High,' from The Woods Are On Fire, (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Fleda Brown and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2020 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.



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M.C. Newberry

Mon 8th Jun 2020 00:54

My fish and chip reference was a bit of retrospective fun but its
connection with newspapers and their sell-by date relevance remains
with us.

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Greg Freeman

Sun 7th Jun 2020 18:01

I know what you mean, MC, although your conclusion is perhaps arrived at via a fairly circuitous route, considering you started by addressing the subject matter of the poem, namely a romance between two teachers in a US school. Only a pedant would point out that the use of newspapers in wrapping fish and chips has been illegal for about the last 30 years. Never mind, no doubt we will soon be liberated from such restrictions by the forthcoming bonfire of red tape. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to wrap our chlorinated chicken in old newspapers, too, in the devil-may-care years to come!

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M.C. Newberry

Mon 1st Jun 2020 22:11

Stimulating word picture that provides images that resonate down
the years from school days long past. I recall the rumour of our PT
teacher (they always seem to be at the front of these supposed
romantic affairs) being involved with a certain female teacher at our
school. But it was never confirmed and soon our youthful curiosity
had moved on....like today's newspapers being discarded as tomorrow's wrapping for fish and chips. UK readers will know what
I mean..

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