Remembering Miss Baker
Evelyn Baker, now enthroned in the pantheon
of great English teachers, stood straight
as a declarative sentence in front of our class.
Not uncomely, but not beautiful, yet not without
form, she was slim, maybe one size up from petite.
A proper noun without modifiers. Everyday
she wore a long-sleeved blouse buttoned high
at her throat to cover a vivid birthmark
that to her must have burned like a brand.
(I was embarrassed to have seen it once.)
Teaching with chalk or book in her left hand,
she covered her neck with her right, letting it
fall away only when she turned to the board.
For her, but mostly with her, we struggled with
books and words until they became friends.
She taught us Beowulf, which in our North Carolina
high school became “Bo Woof” and made her smile.
Even more than her students she loved words,
teaching them by root, prefix, suffix. So we learned
every anthro and gyn word in existence; every
prefix in the universe: ambi through mis to para to
trans; every suffix, phile and phobe, that gave
a noun character. For Miss Baker I would have
become a misanthrope, never a misogynist,
have remained a bibliophile.
She seemed to love trans words the most, perhaps
because she seldom traveled, but she got them across
to us. Now whenever I traverse an ocean I think
of her and hope that back then she had a lover,
someone besides her texts and lexis, who pronounced
his love faithfully, as Juliet required
of Romeo, who in evenings would watch
her read our clumsy prose, shaking her head
and wondering at the lives we had ahead of us.