When I Was Six.

 

Image result for woods at night

 

I emerged as a writer in 1971, age six, when I made the mistake of sharing with my mother a crumpled piece of paper with a few lines of prose.

The woods are quiet at night,

Except for one mouse, who scurries under the dry leaves . ..

It went on from there, describing my new found love for exploring the late night stillness in the thick woods behind our home.

“How do you know?” My mother asked me, stirring her milky tea. “What the woods are like at night?”

I closed my lips, firm.

I wouldn’t tell her that I escaped at night, out the kitchen door, while Johnny Carson blared in the den.  That if I skipped the second step off the back porch, and avoided the gravel driveway, they never heard me go.

“It’s a poem,” I explained. “It’s not real.”

A few weeks later, I stumbled, in an early Sunday morning stupor, to the breakfast table.  Strangely, the newspaper lie across my place at the table.

Being six, I moved it out of the way and poured my cereal into a chipped ceramic bowl, only dimly aware of my parents’ amusement.

“Look,” my mother insisted, “Look at the newspaper.”

In bold letters, on a page titled The Children’s Section, I noted my name.  My heart was an animal, scrambling around my chest. No.

“The Woods at Night” by Joanell Serra.

My poem was printed in exactly the same words I had scribbled on the wrinkled notebook paper, foolishly left in my mother’s possession.

My mother, my mentor, my agent.

The taste of betrayal destroyed my Cheerios.  I added more sugar, and looked away, unable to meet my parents’ expectant gazes.

“Aren’t you excited?” My mother finally said. “Everyone will see your poem! You’re a published writer.”

There was no need to answer. My mortification was apparent in my salty tears

My poems were like secrets, carefully tended, shared only with the select few I trusted.

I had been outed.

On Monday morning, my teacher greeted me with a copy of the paper under her arm and I plan: I would walk to every classroom, and read my poem out loud to them. From Kindergarten to fifth grade.

“We’re so proud of you,” she said.  She had skin that bagged slightly at each elbow, and a profusion of freckles on her long face. She was so old she had taught all my siblings before me, and was always kind. I could not refuse Mrs. Mulcahey.

We started in Kindergarten.  The restless children, only a year younger, had the brains of puppies. Their legs folded like sweaty sausages as they sat cross legged to listen, picking noses and poking one another. One boy in particular chewed on a pencil, devouring it while I read. Newsprint stained my fingers black.  Nausea crept up my throat, and I spoke so quietly the teacher had to take over for me.

We moved on, a reluctant fifth grader dragging me from room to room, my scuffed brown loafers following her down the antiseptic scented hallway.

By the time we finished the second graders, my voice had become calmer, steadier. I was almost robotic,  determined to survive.

I didn’t reach the fifth grade until well past my snack time, and my stomach rumbled as a boy shot spit balls at me through a straw, and the girls tossed their long hair on the desk, like shiny rugs. I ignored the preening and eye rolling. A pro by now, I cleared my throat, introduced myself, and read my poem.

The woods are quiet at night,

Except for one mouse, who scurries under the dry leaves . ..

If I closed my eyes I could be there, my favorite spot where the grass gave way to tall oak trees, where the scent of raspberries drifted in the summer time, and the moon fell upon the path like a silver lantern. My bare feet found their way across the wet grass, to the moist path, to peace.

My poem didn’t do it justice, I thought. I couldn’t find the right words to tell the world about my magical place.  I considered better vocabulary, as I followed my guide back to my classroom, words that might evoke the beauty these woods at night deserved: illumination, crackle, pine boughs. I forgot my mortification as I planned the next poem.

A moist earthy walk, amongst the towering pines? The piercing gaze of a moon lit owl?  I wondered if I might try my hand at alliteration.

I was a reluctant, redeemed, and reverent writer.

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About Learningjunkie

A very sporadic blogger, I am enjoying sharing my musings with others as I pursue learning in many forms. Come see me at the Scuola Di Vita (school of life).
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