Seamed stockings, sensible shoes, cardigan
Buttoned all the way to the top, she greets
each of them by name as they enter her classroom
rebellious, identical. They want Italian,
French, a younger teacher – anything
but this woman, fluent in a language
that will not travel – the deep south of her vowels
slow as the minute hand on the grinding clock
behind her. Her hair is braided and coiled, contained
in a bun substantial as a hornets’ nest – ashen gray.
But their mothers also were made to take it –
translations all the more hated for being inherited.
Then they are assigned to her table in the din
of the dining room, where she directs them
to eat even popsicles with a knife and fork.
She serves fried chicken by inquiring if they prefer
To walk or fly.
And they learn to choose the leaner wing
because they believe it pleases her. At Halloween,
in the darkened gymnasium, beside the tub of water
where girls bob for apples, she sits in a small
booth to tell fortunes, peers into their palms:
and again the same lie of a life so long
they don’t listen – their attentions lost
instead in the swung shock of her hair
let down into luminescence, brushing the floor
like a curtain just closing behind her.
-- Claudia Emerson
Submitted by Bebe Bullock. "I like the Latin Teacher by Claudia Emerson.
I just love the image that the poet draws of a teacher who has two
personas. In my IV Form class, we have been talking about Sherwood
Anderson's twisted apples, those people who are rough on the outside but
are the sweetest of all on the inside. I think of the poem's main
character as a twisted apple."