Thursday, February 29, 2024

Poetry All-Around

This is an excerpt from The Desperate Summer of '62.
It's from a chapter called The Perfect Night. The book is available in paperback, digital, and audible

Poetry All-Around

Mrs. Larsen dropped Rich off at the main gate of the county fair around 11:00 AM. Joe Quinn, who had a car, was supposed to meet Rich later and drive him home. 

A big day was planned. Rich had twenty dollars earned from baling hay. He ordered two hot dogs with mustard and onion along with a coke, at a food tent sponsored by his school. One of Rich's seventh-grade teachers, Mrs. Dotson, waited on him. 

Mrs. Dotson was a short stout woman and looked as if she was used to hard work. She wasn't flabby, but just thick. Her skin was tanned as if working in the fields. She had salt and pepper coarse hair, styled with waves. 

Rich was a disruptive student and he didn’t think she much cared for him.

She made her way to where Rich sat at the counter. “Enjoying the fair?” she asked like a suspicious Baptist aunt.

“I just got here, but, yeah,” Rich said feeling like a guilt-ridden sinner in need of redemption.

“How long are you going to stay?” She said wiping the counter that was not dirty.

“Till they close,” Rich said smiling and tossing a crumb where she wiped.

She smiled and wiped the crumb to the ground. “You’re going to stay out of trouble, aren’t you?”

“Me and trouble, you know better than that, Mrs. Dotson. I stay away from trouble.”

“That’s not the way I remember things,” Mrs. Dotson smiled placing hands on hips.

“You seem not to remember, I was your best student at speed map,” Rich said.

“You were pretty good at that,” she recalled.

“Andorra,” Rich bragged. “You thought you could fool me with that one.”

“I think you’re the only student in the seventh grade who knew where Lichtenstein was too.” Her brow furled and she said seriously, “How did you do this year?”

“I passed.” Rich said and added smiling, “Just.”

“I think you can do better and you know you can,” Mrs. Dotson said.

Rich smiled; being uncomfortable with what was turning out to be a sermon from ‘Reverend Dotson.’

“Mrs. Dotson, thanks,” Rich said.

“Thanks for what?” Mrs. Dotson asked.

“For giving me some help. For not coming down on me too hard,” Rich paused, “And reading Jesse Stewart.”

“Really, what book did I read?” Mrs. Dotson asked.

“The Thread That Runs So True.”

“Oh yes, “ she said, I do like that one. “What did you like about it?”

Rich had to think for a moment. “First of all, I like the way you read it. I felt like I could see the Appalachians, the small town, and the schoolhouse. And second, it was just a good story, written so everybody could understand.”

“First of all, it was Mr. Stewart who put you there,” she corrected. “And if you don’t believe me go to the library and read his book of poetry, Man With A Bull-Tongued Plow. I think you’d like that one.”

“I really don’t like poetry,” Rich said.

“Poetry is all around,” Mrs. Dotson said sweeping her arm around. “When you stroll down the midways, listen to the men at the concessions and think of rhythm, miter and the concise use of words. Do you remember covering that in English?”

“Yes,” Rich said.

“Then listen for it,” Mrs. Dotson said. “Those guys are quite good.”

“The least amount of effort to produce the maximum amount of vision and thought, that’s what you told us poetry was,” Rich said recalling her words from class.

“It is that and much more. Enjoy your lunch,” Mrs. Dotson said. “I got some customers.” She walked away to wait on another customer.

Mrs. Dotson always made Rich think beyond the obvious. It was as if she knew how his mind worked and then made it work. 

Rich finished his meal. 

“Mrs. Dotson,” Rich called to get her attention, “the guy down there with the big hammer trying to ring the bell – that’s poetry isn’t it?”

Mrs. Dotson smiled, “Yes, that’s right. Poetry and a whole lot of physics.”

“That’s cool,” Rich said.

“That’s really cool,” Mrs. Dotson added and smiled.

Rich spent the rest of the afternoon listening for the natural poetry from the carnival barker’s recitations and converting all things to reason and logic. 

It was an afternoon of discovery. 

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