"What on earth are those, Gooney Bird?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked, watching as Gooney Bird sat on the floor and tried to wrestle something off her feet.
Gooney Bird scowled. "Well," she said, "I thought they were high-fashion boots. I got them at the Goodwill store, on the half-price table. One dollar and forty-five cents."
"Quite a bargain," Mrs. Pidgeon commented, still looking at Gooney Bird's feet. "Need some help?"
"Thank you." Gooney Bird hobbled to a nearby bench, sat down, and held her legs out. One at a time Mrs. Pidgeon pulled off the wet boots. They were bright blue, with very high, thin heels.
When Mrs. Pidgeon had set them side by side on the shelf, next to the long puddled row of ordinary rubber boots, Gooney Bird looked at them with distaste. "I thought the stiletto heels were very cool," she said. "Stiletto means a thin, pointy stabbing tool, and that's why they call these stiletto heels. See?" She held one up. "But they're not comfortable. They do stab. And they were slippery on the ice. I fell twice on my way to school. Look. My knees are all wet."
Mrs. Pidgeon felt the damp knees of Gooney Bird's black tights sympathetically. "Goodness," she said.
"I have buyer's remorse," Gooney Bird said.
"What'th that?" asked Felicia Ann, who was nearby, watching.
"It's when you wish you hadn't bought something," Gooney Bird explained. "I hardly ever have it. I make my purchases carefully. But today I have a bad case of buyer's remorse about those dumb boots." She looked at them with a frown and slid her feet into the soft bunny slippers she kept in her cubby.
"My dad has buyer's remorse about our car," Ben said. "It always needs repairs, and it's noisy." He drove an imaginary car across his desk and made a roaring sound.
"My mom has buyer's remorse about a bottle of milk she bought at the corner store!" Malcolm said. "It was too old and when she opened it she made a face at the smell. It smelled like barf!"
Mrs. Pidgeon held up her hand to ask for quiet, because it was clear that all of the second-graders were going to start making barfing noises. She went to the front of the room and picked up a folder from her desk. She took a paper out of the folder and looked at it with a smile.
"Today's poem," she announced. "See if you can guess why I chose it."
She began to read but was interrupted after the first two words. "'Over the—'"
"Please excuse me for interrupting, Mrs. Pidgeon," Keiko said, with her hand up. "But you must always, always start by saying the title and the author's name. You taught us that."
"Tyrone used to say 'Arthur' instead of 'author,'" Malcolm, chortling, reminded everyone. "Remember? Remember when Tyrone thought it was 'Arthur'? All poems were written by Arthur? Is Tyrone dumb or what?"
Mrs. Pidgeon, still holding the paper, went to Malcolm's desk and put her calm-down hand on his shoulder.
"Actually, there are probably many poets named Arthur, so it may be that Tyrone was smarter about poetry than most of us. And we all certainly know what a good poet Tyrone is, when he creates his raps! Got one now, Tyrone?"
Tyrone, whose face had turned very glum, brightened up. He snapped his fingers and thought for a minute. "Soon as I git home, gonna write me a pome—" he chanted.
"Good. Maybe we all will. Maybe that could be our homework tonight," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "And you're right, Keiko. It is correct to read the title and the author's name—which in many cases could, in fact, be Arthur"—she glanced at Malcolm—"but for the moment I'm simply going to read the poem, and then I'll explain the title and tell you the author. Okay. Ready? Shall I begin again?"
All of the children nodded.
In a quiet, clear voice, Mrs. Pidgeon read:
Over the pavement
Snow falls in January—
Soap flakes wash our tracks
"It'th another little poem," Felicia Ann pointed out.
"It doesn't rhyme," Barry Tuckerman said. "All of our snow day poems rhymed."
"It's nice, though," Tricia said. "It makes a picture in my head."
"Poems don't have to rhyme," Beanie reminded them.
"I see London, I see France... That rhymes," Ben called out. "France rhymes with—" He stopped, aware that Mrs. Pidgeon was glaring at him. "Sorry," he said. "Cheap laugh."
"Oh, Mrs. Pidgeon, Mrs. Pidgeon!" Keiko churned her arm in the air. It was unlike quiet Keiko to be so excited. Her face was pink with enthusiasm.
"What is it, Keiko?"
Keiko stood beside her desk. "It's haiku, isn't it?" she said, grinning. "It's haiku! I recognize it! Haiku is Japanese!"
Keiko's family was Japanese American. Her grandparents had grown up in Japan, though they lived now with her whole family in the town of Watertower. She had gone back with them once, to Yokohama, for a visit. She had sent a postcard with a picture of Mount Fuji to Mrs. Pidgeon; the postcard was still on the bulletin board.
"That's correct. And in fact," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "that's the reason I didn't start with the tide. The title of this poem is simply 'Haiku.'"
"Is it by an Arthur?" asked Nicholas.
She laughed. "No," she said.
"It's by a Japanese person, stupid!" called Malcolm.
"I bet Daisuke wrote it, right?" said Ben. "He's Japanese."
Mrs. Pidgeon wrinkled her forehead. "Who is Daisuke?" she asked.
All of the boys began to laugh. Mrs. Pidgeon was not a sports fan, and Daisuke was a famous baseball player. Nicholas explained that to her.
"Oh," she said. "Thank you. I didn't know that. And maybe Daisuke does write poems while he's sitting in the—what is that place called? The birchbark?"
"The dugout!" the boys all yelled.
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "I knew that. I was just teasing. But no, this haiku isn't by Daisuke. In fact, it isn't by a Japanese person. The Japanese invented haiku, that's true; but anyone is allowed to use the form. And the author of this haiku is actually our room mother."
The children were silent for a moment. "But our room mother is your mother!" Chelsea said at last.
"She's Mrs. X!" said Beanie.
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "Well, that's what we all called her for a while when she was being mysterious and didn't want us to guess who she was."
"I remember when she came from the nursing home and brought us cupcakes," Tricia said. "She's very, very old."
"That's true," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "My mother is very, very old. And she's not very well at the moment, so I've been spending a lot of time at the nursing home with her. I opened up an old trunk filled with things from her past, and I found all these poems that she had written. I sit by her bed and read them to her. She likes that. Yesterday, when I read this haiku, I decided it would be a good one for our morning poem."
"Mrs. Pidgeon! I have a poem! I just made it up!" Malcolm called.
The teacher sighed. "All right, Malcolm," she said.
Malcolm stood. He said in a loud voice:
He made his hands into fists, struck a pose, and kicked one leg into the air.
When all of the boys began to arrange themselves in martial-arts poses, Mrs. Pidgeon quickly went to the piano and played a few soft chords. It was her best method for calming down the entire class. It always worked.
When they were quiet and calm, she said, "I'm just going to describe the rules of haiku to you quickly, and then we must go on to our math."
She wrote her mother's poem on the board:
Over the pavement
Snow falls in January—
Soap flakes wash our tracks
They all read it aloud together.
"Okay," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "Three lines. Five syllables in the first line."
They read the first line slowly so that they could hear the syllables. Five.
"Next line: seven," said Mrs. Pidgeon.
They read the second line and could hear that it was true. Seven syllables.
"Finally, five again, in the third line," she told them, and they read it aloud.
"Usually, a haiku is about one of the seasons," she explained. "This one, of course, is about winter. It describes snow, in January. What other seasons do we have?"
"Thummer!" said Felicia Ann. "Thpring!"
"Correct. And fall, or autumn. So there we have the basic rules of haiku. Later today we'll have time to give writing haiku a try. But right now"—she looked at the clock—"we really must get to our math problems."
Then Mrs. Pidgeon noticed that Gooney Bird Greene, who had been very quiet, had her hand raised. "Yes, Gooney Bird?"
"I wrote one," Gooney Bird said. "I know I should have been facing forward, hands folded, eyes on you, when you were talking. But I couldn't help myself. Sometimes you just can't help yourself." She held up a lined paper with some writing on it.
"I know. That's true sometimes. All right, Gooney Bird, why don't you read it to the class? Then: math."
Gooney Bird stood. Frowning, she adjusted the damp knees of her tights. Then she read, from her paper:
by Gooney Bird Greene
Winter walk to school
Stiletto boots, icy street—
Toes and knees suffer
After the next morning's intercom announcements were over, Mrs. Pidgeon went to the front of the class with a paper in her hand.
"Is your mother better?" Beanie asked.
Mrs. Pidgeon looked sad. "No," she said, "I'm afraid not. When you're very old, as my mother is, you just start to give out, and you don't get better. But yesterday after school, I went to see her and I read poems to her again. Her own poems. You know, at one time my mom was a very serious writer."
"Is that one of hers?" Barry asked, pointing to the paper. Mrs. Pidgeon nodded.
"Another haiku?" asked Keiko.
"No, this one is different. I know some of you like hearing poems that rhyme, so I looked through my mother's poetry and found a lovely rhyming one."
"I hope it's not long," said Malcolm. "That poem you read at Halloween was long."
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "Anybody remember the name of that one?" she asked the second-graders. "Barry? You're my student who remembers everything. You're the memory champion of the class."
Barry grinned and nodded. "It was 'Little Orphan Annie,' and the name of the author was James Whitcomb Reilly."
"Good for you! That's correct. I read that one because it was about goblins and scary things, so it seemed just right for Halloween. But you're right, Malcolm—it was quite long."
Gooney Bird raised her hand. It made a clanking sound because she was wearing a large number of bracelets on that arm. Gooney Bird liked jewelry a lot.
"Sorry for the clank," she said. "I'm taking my bracelets off in a minute because they make it hard for me to write. They clank on the desk."
"How about the gloves?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon. "They don't interfere with your writing?" Gooney Bird was also wearing her fingerless gloves.