Perfect Circle

for Mr. Malick

Today I wrote on my first dry-erase board, clumsily

maneuvering the marker across the white surface as I

scrawled the agenda for the first day of school. My students

 

filed in, their names unknown to me, and I couldn’t help

but wonder what—once we got to know each other—they’d

retain from my class, if anything. Perhaps a phrase. Maybe a story,

 

like the one you told about meeting John Irving in a bar

or how you used to be able to draw a perfect circle with chalk

simply by swinging your shoulder against a black, and later

 

a green, surface. You taught us geometry, true, but you

also talked about the finer points of literature and when

Matthew kept asking math questions, you walked over and held

 

out your hand—and we laughed at your way of saying “Cowboy

up”—something you couldn’t do the day they installed

the white board in your classroom. Your marker flew out

 

of your hand and you swore and pounded the board that stole

away your perfect circle. Your cheeks reddened as you cursed

the block schedule, among other things. You were a grump,

 

and you drank too much but one day you taught us to play craps,

and then you explained why Michael Jackson was a genius

dancer, and a decade later I can still help English students

 

with their trigonometry homework. My students don’t dare

ask me why English is important, so when they ask me why

most other subjects matter, I say “Ask your teacher,”

 

but when they ask me about math, I think of you, and I tell

them that there is something to be said for the beauty

of an equation, that the ability to see each step to a solution

 

is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives, finding

symmetry and meaning on one page is not something other subjects

can promise. I leave out the swears. But today, my students ask

 

me the date, and I do not know what to say because I think today

is your birthday and I’m not sure why I remember this, but perhaps

it’s because my birthday is coming soon or maybe it’s because you died

 

three days ago, or maybe it’s just that I loved you.                                                      

 

 

first printed in English Journal (2012)     (c) Tasha Graff