Friday, April 1, 2011
It's perfect timing that the little stranger has accompanied her daddy to class this day when I introduce ethnography. It's about why do we do the things we do. We'll study one bird to have something to say about the flock. Earlier, this little bird piped up. As I turned my back to write on the board, I heard, "Are you the wicked witch of the West? 'Cause that's what my daddy says." Her honesty is perfect and my cheeks burn beneath it. Her father dances a jig. He's danced before in a discussion about the power of words. We'd read an essay encouraging women to think themselves queens in a world where rappers pronounce them ho's and bitches. He compared those words to nigger at which point the static roared and I couldn't hear. When he was done, he apologized to the one black student in the room and the discussion resumed as if they were collectively trying to bury a body. There are days when they say what I could never teach, when the lesson isn't written in the plans. Then and now, I feel helpless. I want to erase it from the air, where it hangs long after they've left. I think witch stings a little but it doesn't burn like nigger must. It's not skin. I go on: Susan Orlean brought us "The American Man at Age 10," and I model technique on his daughter who has spent the hour doodling. She is 6. She likes 'ghetti best for dinner. Yellow is her favorite color. I ask, "Who is your favorite person in the world?" thinking she will say it's her dad, but she says "dog" instead and the students laugh and soon the air is lighter. At the end of the hour, the students leave with whatever they gather. I'm erasing when I feel the smallest pressure around my thigh. She is hugging me. She says, "You aren't really a witch at all."I'm left spinning, circling the way my dog does when he's trying to find the soft spot of a hard floor. My dog is, indeed, the world's best person because he doesn't speak but knows the certain number of rotations that makes the slumber easier. Whether my lesson plans hit or miss escapes him. He doesn't have time. He lives even in sleep: running limbs, the whimper, the always satisfied sigh.