"Nope. Actually, I think they help with writing, because they keep my writing hand warm and make words flow out onto the paper better. It's like when I warm my brain with a hat."
"I see. Did you have a question? Is that why you raised your hand?"
"No, I just wanted to say something about long-ness. I think a poem should be just smack exactly as long as it tells you it should be."
"As it tells you?" Mrs. Pidgeon repeated, with a puzzled look.
Gooney Bird nodded. She pulled her bracelets off and stacked them on her desktop, carefully making a round tower of the brass circles. "Yes. Writing a poem is the same as writing a story. You say what you want to say, and then it tells you, in your brain: Stop here."
"Hmmm," said the teacher, thinking. "I believe you're right, and that we should all listen more carefully to our brains."
"You might try warming your brains with a hat," Gooney Bird suggested politely.
Malcolm held up his fist and pretended it was a microphone. "Brain to Malcolm, Brain to Malcolm," he intoned in a deep voice. "'Wear underpants on your head.'"
"Teacher to Malcolm," Mrs. Pidgeon said, holding up her own invisible microphone. "I am going to read this morning's poem now, and I want you to pay attention. You were one of the ones who wanted rhyme."
Standing in front of the class, Mrs. Pidgeon carefully unfolded the paper and read aloud:
by Mrs. X
"Hey!" Tyrone called out. "That's you! If your mom write that, then you be the daughter, right?"
"That's true," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "This is a poem about me. My mother wrote it many years ago, so it's a poem about me when I was your age."
"Cool," said Tyrone.
"Mrs. Pidgeon, you ought to say the author's real name, not 'Mrs. X'! Just because we call her Mrs. X, that doesn't mean it's her author name!" Chelsea pointed out.
"You're correct, Chelsea. But you know what, class? My mother has something special about her name, and I want to surprise you with it. But not yet. So for now, her author name is going to be Mrs. X. Is that all right?"
All of the children nodded.
"I'll start again."
by Mrs. X
Daughter, laughter: spelled the same.
Patricia: my laughing daughter's name.
Mrs. Pidgeon picked up the chalk and wrote the two words on the board: daughter, laughter.
"Yep, they oughta rhyme," Tyrone said. "Look at that. It's crazy that they don't rhyme."
"That poem wasn't long," Malcolm said in a relieved voice.
"It's very thweet," Felicia Ann said.
"But it tells a lie!" Nicholas announced. "You said your mom wrote it. So her daughter's name ought to be..." He hesitated, thinking.
Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "That's my first name, Patricia. Some people call me Patsy, or Pat. But my mother always liked my full name best: Patricia."
She read the short poem to them again. "It's just two lines," she pointed out. "Two rhyming lines. Hear that? Same, and name?"
The children nodded. They said the words aloud: Same. Name.
"This kind of poem is called a couplet. Two lines, rhyming. Probably pretty easy to write, I'm guessing. So here's the assignment, class. During our writing time today, I want each of you to try writing a couplet. Then, at the end of the day, we'll read our couplets aloud."
"Do they have to be about Patricias?" Malcolm asked with a scowl.
"No, no. But that's a good question, Malcolm. And I have an idea. Let's do this. Let's each write a couplet about our own family. Okay?"
Malcolm sighed. He lived in a very noisy, complicated family because of the triplets that had been born the previous spring. Malcolm was still adjusting to that. "Here's a poem about my family," he said with another scowl. " Crash. Bash. Smash. That's what it sounds like at my house most of the time."
"Wait till writing time after lunch, Malcolm," Mrs. Pidgeon suggested, "and maybe you'll be able to come up with a couplet about triplets. Goodness!" She laughed. "Couplet, triplets? That's almost a rhyme, isn't it?"
Malcolm just rolled his eyes.
Writing time took longer than usual. The children, most of them, found that writing poems was not easy. They had to search their heads for the perfect words.
"In stories or fables, you can use any old words," Chelsea said, looking glumly at her paper, which was covered with scribbles and cross-outs. "But for a poem, the words have to be just right. It's hard."
"Revise, revise, revise," murmured Tricia, her head bent over her desk.
Mrs. Pidgeon moved around the room, talking with those who were having trouble, making suggestions, giving help.
"I don't need help," Barry Tuckerman boasted. "Mine's done. I'm probably the best poet in the world." He turned his paper over and sat with his hands folded.
"You're a poet and you don't know it, but your feet show it—" Ben chanted, looking at Barry. The other children all joined in: "They're Long-fellows!"
Mrs. Pidgeon looked at the clock. "All right," she said. "I know many of you need more time, but you'll have to stop for now and maybe finish at home because the bell will ring before we know it. Who's ready to read a couplet aloud? Barry, I know you are. Want to start?"
Barry Tuckerman went to the front of the room. The children all giggled. They liked u Barry. He was smart and interesting. But he was like an old man: serious and scholarly. And now he stood holding his paper, shoulders back, looking around, waiting for the audience to be attentive.
He cleared his throat. Then he read his poem:
by Barry Tuckerman, author
is the word for sister or brother.
I don't believe there's any other.
He bowed. The second-graders all clapped. Malcolm gave a shrill whistle of approval.
"That was terrific, Barry," Mrs. Pidgeon told him. "It was—well, it was Barry-esque."
"Does Barry get an A?" asked Chelsea.
"No grade for poetry," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Poetry is not something you judge. You just savor it."
When she realized they looked puzzled, she suggested, "You can look savor up in your dictionaries later." Then she looked around the room. "Anyone else? Good. Felicia Ann is ready."
Felicia Ann went to the front of the room with her paper. Everyone smiled. At one time, Felicia Ann had been so shy that she had always looked at the floor and rarely spoke. But that was changing. Even though her missing teeth were still giving her speech problems, Felicia Ann had begun to be an enthusiastic, sometimes even talkative member of the class.
From the front of the room, she asked the teacher a question. "Doeth it have to have 'Couplet' ath a title? Becauth I have a different title."
"Oh my, no," Mrs. Pidgeon told her. "You are the complete ruler of the title. Whatever you want it to be."
"Good," Felicia Ann replied. "My title ith 'Neethe.'"
"Neethe?" asked Beanie. "What's that?"
"Let's wait and see," Mrs. Pidgeon suggested. "Go ahead, Felicia Ann."
Felicia Ann took a deep breath. Her face was pink with excitement. She looked at her paper and read:
by Felithia Ann
Thuthan ith my little neethe.
She doethn't yet have any teeth.
Everyone was silent for a moment as if translating a foreign language. Then they got it, one by one.
"Remember Felicia Ann's big sister had a baby?"
"It's Susan! That's her niece's name!"
"Right!" said Felicia Ann. "Thuthan!" She beamed with pride while the class applauded her couplet. Then she sat down.
"Time for maybe two more," Mrs. Pidgeon said. She looked around. "Malcolm. Your turn."
Malcolm bounded to the front of the room. His shoes were untied, his shirt buttons were in the wrong holes, and there were Magic Marker stains all over his hands.
His paper was crumpled, but he smoothed it out and read in a loud voice:
Some people have siblings and some not any.
I have three. That's two too many.
The class laughed and clapped, and Malcolm folded his paper into an airplane and sailed it across the room. It missed the hamster cage and rested on a stack of National Geographies.
"Sometimes poetry is a good way of explaining our feelings, isn't it?" Mrs. Pidgeon a said. "Thank you, Malcolm. Good work. Now: who's next? Last one today!"
"I'll go," Gooney Bird announced. She stood. Today, in addition to her brain-warming hat and her fingerless gloves, the ones that she said warmed and invigorated her writing hands, she was also wearing a fur collar at the neck of her sweatshirt. The left leg of her jeans was rolled up to her knee so that her striped knee sock showed above her bunny slipper.
"My poem tells my feelings, too," she said, "and it's a shortie, so I memorized it and I don't need to read it from the paper. But..." Gooney Bird looked around. "Could some of you come up and stand here with me while I say it?"
"Why?" asked Chelsea. "Are you scared?"
"I am never scared," Gooney Bird replied.
"Embarrathed?" asked Felicia Ann.
"I am never embarrassed," Gooney Bird said.
"Why do you need us, then?" asked Keiko.
"Because you are part of my poem. Sometimes a poem is more than just words."
"Well, I'll be a part of Gooney Bird's poem," Mrs. Pidgeon announced. "It would be an honor." She went and stood beside Gooney Bird at the front of the room.
"Me, too!" said Beanie.
"I want to, too!"
One by one the children got up from their desks and went to stand in increasingly long lines on both sides of Gooney Bird Greene. The lines made their way around the border of the room, past the hamster cage, past the art display, past the large calendar on the wall.
"We're a thircle!" Felicia Ann pointed out.
"Now," Gooney Bird instructed, "hold hands, everyone!"
She removed her fingerless gloves and took the hand of Mrs. Pidgeon on one side and Malcolm on the other. Around the circle every child reached out and held hands on both a sides.
Gooney Bird looked around. "Okay," she said, when they were all arranged. "Here's my poem." In a firm, clear voice, she recited:
by Gooney Bird Greene
I'm an only.
But not lonely.
"You promised funny today, Mrs. Pidgeon! You said we could do funny poems!" Ben said.
"I did indeed," Mrs. Pidgeon told the class. "Humorous poems today." She went to the board and wrote a word: LIMERICK.
Just then there was a knock on the classroom door. It opened, and Mr. Leroy, the principal, came in. Today he was wearing his chess-game tie, with little knights and pawns and other chess pieces on it in a pattern. "Just visiting," he said with a smile. "Got room for me?"
Mrs. Pidgeon, still standing at the board, pulled her chair away from her desk and gestured to Mr. Leroy. "Oh good," he said as he sat down in the teacher's chair. "Thank you. I don't mind sitting at a child's desk, but my knees are always stiff afterward."