Although all the teachers at Wade Thomas Elementary School were women,
only Mrs. Lepley was a lady. Dressed in flowing blue silk gowns that clung
to her full, soft breasts and brushed against her slender calves, she turned
the heads of all the little boys and even some of the girls.
Gardenia was her favorite scent though for special occasions, our birthdays
or Valentine’s Day, she wore violet, the fragrance her mother considered regal.
Her long fingernails were always deep red as were her rouge and lipstick.
Only once did we see her raven hair undone—
one afternoon during naptime when she thought we all were sleeping,
she slipped the silver Spanish combs out of the honeycomb bun
and it cascaded to her hips. Breathless, we watched her stroke it,
wind it gently again atop her head, carefully tucking the stray ends together.
She brought us fresh tangerines from her backyard,
Swiss chocolate bunnies she mail ordered from the Alps,
stamps from across the globe mailed to her from former beaus.
We loved afternoon readings—Madame Butterfly our favorites and hers.
She loved us all, but I was her favorite, her pet.
She took me to see Around the World in Eighty Days in a San Francisco theater,
taught me to read between the lines, how to comb my tangled hair,
iron and mend my clothes, how not to become the town whore.
We gather today around her casket beneath the wisteria covered gazebo
as for so many afternoons we’d clustered at her feet,
each of us holding a piece of her in our faces, our hands, our stance.
I press a bouquet of hand-picked violets in her still slender fingers.
As we turn to leave, a single monarch flies above us.
—from Rattle #23, Summer 2005