Math Class

Somehow that shriveled arm
seemed the perfect arm
for tracing the odd shapes of geometry
in white on our black chalkboard
showing us a woman could do
this unwomanly thing
and sometimes a girl would let out a giggle
almost like a pig squeak
and our teacher would stop, chalk
in her lifted hand
and her back would stiffen
as she turned and glared at us

then returned
to tracing out her mysteries
we girls thought
meant math is for old maids
dries women out
so they can’t want the only things
that seemed worth wanting—
happy grins in the hallways
and dark back seats where his warm breath
made the short hair on our napes stand up

and so we would come back to be scolded
and any boy in the class
knew better what any kind of triangle was
or how to add the sides up
into answers that were her kind
of “I do”

and some days she put the chalk
down on her desk
and told us how her father
scalded her with boiling water
and her arm contracted in its healing
but we barely listened

because a small white note was moving
across the room 
toward the last seat by the window
and she didn’t notice
since she was back at the blackboard
back at the numbers she loved
and we were girls
who knew nothing at all.

From I Have Tasted the Apple (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1996) by Mary Crow. Copyright © 1996 by Mary Crow. Used with the permission of the publisher