Third Grade Move
We were late.
I was horrified.
The kind of fist-in-the-stomach
that had tears trying to find
their way out the burning rims of my eyes.
I kept blinking,
as we hurried toward the numbered door.
Our new home’s construction
was delayed and so this September day
we had to cross the whole valley
to get to my new classroom,
in my new school,
in the new town,
with all new people.
My step-dad (Daddy to me)
had taken the opportunity this move offered
to reiterate to my older brother
and myself that if we wanted his
last name as our own,
he would be proud;
my mother added that it was our choice.
I thrilled from the unexpected
adult-like attention of that conversation,
and chose to try it on the first day,
remembering how my parents’ eyes
shone at my voicing this sweet shift.
School then and always has
provided me a realm
of competency, since I learn
the way public systems teach-
much of my esteem,
grew from the strength
I drew from those roots:
of seek and find,
of truth and relativity,
of shared experience
and alien existence.
This 8 ½ year old that day,
flushed with the embarrassment
of walking past rows of
mostly white, well-bathed and eager faces,
wearing my favorite white knee socks,
and brand new red shoes
making uncomfortably loud clacks
on the polished linoleum,
surrounded by the smells of chalkboards,
paste and pencil shavings
seemingly imbedded in the walls,
marched up with my step-father to
who had brown hair
stacked higher than I had ever seen,
and curiously drawn-on eyebrows,
but also a wide smile that
crinkled her eyes and softened
her creased forehead.
She asked me for my name,
which I said a bit too quietly.
Then she asked me to spell
my last name,
and to my dawning horror,
I realized that I wasn’t sure…
in front of all my new classmates,
I wasn’t sure-fired ready
to shoot out a correct answer
and show everyone what a sharp
marksman I was
with the words that have always
wrapped themselves around my head,
heart and tongue.
My mother would have sensed my terror
without missing a beat,
but my daddy, a dear engineer who loved
us with a logical fierceness that
sometimes meant bewildered communication,
let me twist and turn inside
as my cheeks grew hotter and I gripped his hand.
Suddenly he looked at me, surprised
(at the time this doubled up my shame)
and spelled it, too loudly, to
my new, probably shocked,
She waved me to my seat, right next to
a boy named Mike Inouye
and seeing his name tag penciled in
that precise teacher script
on the desk,
I grew humbler in my reading skills
as I tried to slump low in the chair.
Reflecting on the power of the moment,
in relation to the rest of my
truly wonderful third grade year,
gives me glimpse once again
that a first day
isn’t the end.
January each poem I read these days amazes me. The quality of each word and line break is something like perfection, and seething with the quality.
Thank you! Your words inspire me to keep going!
Good setup, good payoff, as your grown-up pride in your new last name became your embarrassment. Reading your poem, I experienced those third-grade emotions with you.
I was with you every step of the way. Your writing is so precise. I smell and feel and sense what you describe. I was that little 8 year old girl. I felt for her. My family built a house when I was in 6th grade. It wasn’t ready in Sept and I had to be driven a great distance to school for 6 weeks before we moved in, so I really do relate to what you said, but you are amazing in your description, in a sparse, elegant way.
Your poetry is so powerful. I agree with John and Betsy, I was feeling it as you described it. Loved your truth at the end too – a first day, even a bad one, isn’t the end.
You write on so many levels and evoke deep responses to every stanza in these deceptively simple and straightforward lines. As I scanned down the poem, I began to distinguish a rhythm in the verses, like music. Thank you!
Very special poem. You captured both the universal joys of First Day and those anxieties that made your day stand out in your mind these many years later. “A first day isn’t the end.” I could have used that insight earlier in my life! Thanks so much for your wonderful contributions.
Thank you, all! Your feedback was wonderful to read!