Autumn debris was laid out on the walk
Like a garish rug. The trees weren't
But paper leaves adorned the blackboard's edge
With red alone, as if the whole fall scene
Were judged to be some treacherous romance.
Behind the door, a woman stood and smiled
Toward the small cupboard open for the coats.
The mothers' lipsticked mouths persuaded new
Miniature suits and dresses to sit still
On the gray rug, beneath the flag, beside
The piano. Teacher played a tune and sang.
The children cried, or sang. The mothers
The new girl hid beneath the desk till noon.
But now it isn't autumn. Winter's here.
Now Teacher has been buried thirty years,
The decades spent like afternoons at home.
White paper snowflakes pinned to robes bear
Outdated as the names of cars they rode in—
Packard, or Hudson—traded in for chairs
With wheels their hands are not advised to try.
The one who hid beneath the desk rolls in,
The new girl one last time, in a gown that is
Only white, as the snow is only white.
She stares at rows of faces that transmit
Nothing: here is the piano but no song.
Her daughter's lipsticked mouth says something .
. . what?
The nurse is bringing blankets. Winter's
© 1997; originally printed in Cumberland
Reprinted by permission of the author.