A poem in praise of Mrs. Pinder

O how you rose in your chair,
pinned me with an aggrieved glare,
in front of our grade-two class.
Your august flesh
pendulous with seriousness,
my inner-duckling, stricken
and stone-dead attentive.

O, your arms took minutes to fold
in grave portent at my mortal sin
—of venial omission—
and with offended exultation,
you stated, “Stephen!
You have yet to learn the alphabet,
moreover, you are the very last one!”

Long had been my preoccupation,
to prove your diligent
dismissal of me wrong.

But Dear Mrs. Pinder,
more than one-half century later,
I still don’t have your alphabet in order,
don’t know it the way it knows me,
play it, the way it plays me.

And now sweet teacher,
I am moved to prove you
perpetually right.

For it’s not rote
that lends our letters light,
it’s love of sound and form.
It’s reverence for cadence
and a sense of place,
with grace for the shape of symbol.

Now when rage
for some global rule looms,
I hail and praise your talent
for fitting me with one thing firm:
an abiding ability
for riveting distraction.

springside school

Springside, Saskatchewan. Where it all went down. Well, grade 2 to 7 anyway.

(The poem is a result of remembering iconic moments and discussing them with some friends. This one was one of those shame inducing spots of time it takes a lifetime to integrate–for one never really sheds them, only integrates them.)

Photo courtesy of Peter Orlick.


  1. I think your little aside at the end is my favourite bit here Steve …

    “those shame inducing spots of time it takes a lifetime to integrate–for one never really sheds them, only integrates them”


  2. I remember the substitute teacher in grade one asking what time it is as she moved the hands on the teaching clock. I didn’t know. Who had taught the others? I hadn’t missed any class. The shame of not knowing drove me to become a knowitall. Anytime, anywhere a question was asked (of or overheard), I had to answer. I became the researcher, the google guru. I can’t not know. I had to know and had to be right. That substitute should reimburse me for the ensuing years of therapy and alienated relationships. My favorite thing to say now, is “I don’t know” and I’m ok with that. It seems something like a hallelujah.

  3. Thank you Dave! The attempt to shed these moments is doomed from the outset. But it has taken a long time to realize this. The poem, as provincial as it is, was yet one more integrating move. Perhaps much art, is about the artist working toward a place of integration and reconciliation with life…with “fear and trembling.”

  4. to welcome a returning parent home from a long day, my then 6 or 7-year old daughter who attended elementary school in Mexico (so, Spanish at school, English at home) decorated a poster and wrote: ¡ Gualcom Jom !

    (Gualcom – a cross, I think, between Guacamole and Welcome and Jom meaning Home).

    I knew what she meant and it thrilled me. To this day she still does not always keep the alphabets in order and they sometimes play her better than she plays them. i am grateful, though, that the joy in so many of her communications and the love of language remains… i am so happy that it also so clearly does for you, too, stephen

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