The next day in class—Wednesday—we spent the first few minutes talking about our walk to the Settlers Cemetery—and different kids read aloud what they’d found on the gravestones. Then Ms. Medwin asked us what ideas for poems we had, and some kids told about what they’d been thinking, and Ms. Medwin helped those kids—and the rest of us, listening—to think of different ways to write them. “And don’t worry about rhyming,” she said. “If you look in Spoon River, you don’t see much rhyming.” She paused. “What do you see?”
“Strong emotions,” I said quickly—then wished I hadn’t.
Ms. Medwin smiled at me. She already knew I didn’t like to draw attention to myself, and she was pleased, I think, about what I’d blurted out. “Does that make sense to the rest of you?” she asked. “Strong emotions?”
Some kids made various grumbling sounds that meant, Yeah, I guess. And I wish Vickie would just shut up!
Then we talked a little about emotions—which ones are stronger than others.
“Well,” she said, “make sure you think about which strong emotions you want your person to show us—and then think of how you could show them?”
She turned us loose to work on our own for a while. I glanced over at Gil, who was bent over his desk, already writing. A glance, too, at Harriet, who was smiling at me in the oddest way. She flicked her eyes back and forth between Gil and me, a quizzical look wrinkling her forehead. And then I understood: Harriet knows.
At home that night I worked awhile on my poem about my gravestone and came up with this:
Francis Wright: He tried—but failed.
So why should birds
And bats and insects
Be the only ones to fly?
Oh, sure, they have the wings,
But do they also have
I’m sure they don’t.
Fish don’t love to swim—
They just do.
The same with birds:
If they want to move,
They have to fly—
Or hop helplessly on the ground,
I thought about this
And finally I figured my passion
Would be all I’d need
That day I climbed that tall, inviting oak
Out near Nashoba Park,[i]
Clear to the top,
And spread my arms.
I felt pretty good about it, actually—until later in the night. A smell awoke me. A powerful, sour smell of death. I remained right where I was—but rigid with fear. I slowed my breathing, pretending to be asleep. And it was then that I heard—or thought I heard?—the whisper. The voice was raspy and sounded very, very close to me.
I’ve never found death amusing, Victoria. Then more raspy breathing. I waited … waited … And then I knew he (it?) was gone. The air sweetened. And I screamed.