209. Miss Stein

The postman–only man
In town with steady pay–
His son would go.
Well, that was nice.
Miss Stein twisted a brown wisp
In her bun: “Teacher’s hairdo,”
Her friends called it, when they
Teased. Sure, postman’s son
Would like to go:
He’d have a time.

And there were others, too,
That ought to go–
But they weren’t going.
Some, even, who deserved it–
Won’t learn what they
Need to, staying here–but
College? Fine: who could
Afford?

So why then, Miss Stein asked–
Bittersweet curve in her
Lip, penning comments
On a student’s  paper–why be
So concerned with
This one?
Hers is just the common fate.

Miss Stein while grading
Paused to look at her:
There she sits,
Her corner of the classroom–
Class was over long ago–
A girl–young woman, really–
Doodling on a paper scrap.

Why her? Why me? Why
So hard to ignore?
Might be nothing more
Than all that yellow hair.
Miss Stein half-smiled: my folly.
That frothy, creamy,
Tapioca yellow, sunny-lustrous
As the tinted pictures in
A Brothers Grimm.
Fairy princess.
Miss Stein, though, found
Such tales tiresome–
Always the same princess,
Same locks of gold, et cetera,
And the puffy, ballooned-out dress.

But this girl was not boring.
Never that.
She had a most peculiar name–
“Narsissus”–
God knows why; some
Whimsy of her mother’s, who had
Mangled up the spelling, no
Surprise. They’d righted it
At school, where it was “Cissy”
Anyway, or else called Baby,
By the crueller ones,
Because she wore those let-down,
Tacked-on, dropped-waist
Small-girl dresses,
The same frocks for years,
All that her family had.
Her mother was a drunk;
Her father, bad.
So judged Miss Stein,
Long-suffering with parents.

But Cissy had a hobby.
Not hobby, really–
Fact was, Cissy drew.
For years Miss Stein had
Heard it, and now
Had her, senior year–
The girl could draw.
Miss Stein had seen the pictures:
Not of faces, or sleek gowns, or even
Horses, which the girls
All loved to sketch.
Cissy, she created–
Forms. Shapes. Things.
Circles, squares, triangles,
Figures much more intricate, which
Miss Stein had no name for,
Could not name.
Geometry?
Miss Stein sighed. Not exactly.
To the theorems, which
The girl had learned by heart,
Cissy never gave a thought.
Instead, she drew this and that,
Connected them, and
Counterbalanced: sometimes
Lines became a building; or a bridge;
Or a machine; sometimes,
Nothing Miss Stein could
Identify.

Cissy, though, was
No one’s dreamy artist.
The girl burned fierce; she schemed;
She wanted free.
(“How do students get in Tech,
Miss Stein? How soon
Can I apply?
They’ll let you in, won’t they,
With high marks,
If you lack the money?”)
No.
(“Look over these letters, please,
Miss Stein. The teachers
Wrote them, when I asked.
They recommend they let me in
The college. Maybe find me
A job, so I can pay.”)
No. No jobs; there
The local students had them.
(“You know someone, don’t you,
At the college, Miss Stein,
Who admits the students?
No?”) The girl was past
Ashamed to ask.
She asked, she asked,
She came up with new ways.
When nothing worked,
She still would not believe.
Well, school would soon be
Over, and Narcissus
Cooking beans, for the next
Ten or twenty years.
What does she think will
Turn up? Miss Stein thought–
This is no fairy-tale:
Learn that.

But then, sometimes….
Miss Stein gazed out the windows:
What a waste!
The wind kicked up the dust
And sprayed the glass.
In eerie brown-orange light,
The schoolyard showed no
Softest trace of leaf or green….inside,
Cissy drawing something
No one’d ever seen.
Hopeless.
Sometimes, though,
One could take a fancy
To a person–
As she had with Cissy,
She confessed.
Teacher’s pet.
I might try once more.
Go one more step.
Look at me,
Without Aunt Flo and Ira
That year, I’d have never
Gone to school….

Miss Stein considered.
Could be,
One more person
I can ask. No, I don’t
Like her–snubbed me
More than once–
But what the hell,
Swallow my pride.
I will.

Beneath the fabulous blonde hair,
The girl was pale.

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