The Hand

- 1952-
The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom 
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that 
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie 
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question. 
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

More by Mary Ruefle

The Letter


Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots. A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts. I wonder will I
ever see a grape again? When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October-- when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger-- how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink. It seemed our future was sealed. Everyone
said so. It is quiet here. Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely. The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath. I am the stranger who kissed you. On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier. The power of
mindless beauty! Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May. A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye. For a month I milked a barnful of
cows. It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier. Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles. Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed? Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.

(here the letter breaks off)

Sentimental Education


Ann Galbraith
loves Barry Soyers.

Please pray for Lucius Fenn
who suffers greatly whilst shaking hands.

Bonny Polton
loves a pug named Cowl.

Please pray for Olina Korsk
who holds the record for missing fingers.

Leon Bendrix loves Odelia Jonson
who loves Kurt who loves Carlos who loves Paul.

Please pray for Cortland Filby
who handles a dead wasp, a conceit for his mother.

Harold loves looking at Londa's hair under the microscope.
Londa loves plaiting the mane of her pony.

Please pray for Fancy Dancer
who is troubled by the vibrissa in his nostrils.

Nadine St. Clair loves Ogden Smythe
who loves blowing his nose on postage stamps.

Please pray for William Shakespeare
who does not know how much we love him, miss him and think of him.

Yukiko Pearl loves the little bits of toffee
that fall to the floor when Jeffrey is done with his snack.

Please pray for the florist Marieko
who wraps roses in a paper cone then punches the wrong code.

Muriel Frame loves retelling the incident
that happened on the afternoon of November third.

Please pray for our teacher Ursula Twombly
who does not know the half of it.

By the radiator in a wooden chair
wearing woolen stockings sits a little girl
in a dunce's cap, a paper cone rolled to a point
and inverted on her hair; she's got her hands
in her lap and her head bowed down, her chin
is trembling with having been singled out like this
and she is sincere in her fervent wish to die.

Take it away and give it to the Tartars
who roll gloriously into battle.

The Daze


It was one of those mornings the earth seemed
not to have had any rest at all, her face dour
and unrefreshed, no particular place-- subway,
park-- expressed sufficient interest in present circumstances
though flowers popped up and tokens
dropped down, deep in the turnstiles. And from
the dovecots nothing was released or killed.
No one seemed to mind, though everyone noticed.
If the alphabet died-- even the o collapsing, the l
a lance in its groin-- what of it? The question
'krispies, flakes or loops?'-- always an indicator of
attention-- took a turn for the worse, though crumpets
could still be successfully toasted: machines worked,
the idiom death warmed over was in use. By noon,
postage stamps were half their width and worth
but no one stopped licking. Neutrinos passed,
undetected. Corpulent clouds formed in the sky.
Tea was served at four. When the wind blew off a shingle
or two, like hairs, and the scalp of the house began
to howl, not a roofer nailed it down. That was that.
When the moon came out and glowed like a night light
loose in its socket, no one was captious, cautious or wise,
though the toes of a few behaved strangely in bed--
they peeped out of the blankets like insects' antennae,
then turned into periscopes scouting to see
if the daze that was morning had actually managed to doze.