In fifth grade, Ms. Presley, my homeroom teacher, told my mother I was too slow at handwriting. (This was the same teacher who pulled the girls aside one by one when it was “time for a bra.”)
I nurtured cursive. I loved the art of it— the p a duck with its head underwater,
the m’s three rounded pauses like the end of The Lord’s Prayer: kingdom, power, glory. Ms. Presley advised my mother to “move her writing along, or she’ll fail.” And then: “Perhaps a trip to J.C. Pennys for a training bra.”
Certain childhood moments stay with us. I remember the report I did on Japan, how I drew kabuki and sushi in colored pencil and glued a drink umbrella from Kanki Steakhouse onto the cover. And I remember timing my cursive. I didn’t have a stopwatch so I used a digital clock with a blinking red colon that I pretended was green: hurry, go faster, seconds are wasting and piling. I raced to write Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. I wrote it out like punishment. I saw myself winded and lagging behind the rest of my class, like in PE when we had to run a mile in under 8 minutes to qualify for the Presidential Fitness Award and I cramped and clutched my side.
I’m thirty. I still watch the clock. I’m afraid of dog paddling through life when what’s expected is a strong forward stroke. Why can I only finish a poem a month? Why did I lose my heart to a man I won’t see again until December? I think about what T.S. Eliot wrote in Prufrock: and indeed there will be time. Then I picture Ms. Presley patrolling my desk, favoring her good hip and pointing a fat finger at another of my unfinished paragraphs.
Yesterday My Poet asked if I knew how to recognize a ginkgo. I said no, so she drew its leaf, serrated and fanned like a moth, like a kind of cursive. She explained how years ago, in the early 70’s, she collected money from her building to plant a row of ginkgo trees. “They grew slowly at first,” she said. “But I was patient. Look at them now, after 30 years.”
Later that afternoon there they were, just as she said, a tall and time-biding green.