My first class left a little early. He came in, hesitant. I need for someone look my grammar, he said, holding out a sheet of paper the color of old mushrooms. His hand was dirty, his coat, his clothes. You teacher? he asked. You could help me with the English? I nodded. I am plumer an electricin, his paper began. Sometime I like my work but is dangerus. Very busy putting heavy pipe.
I wrote in missing words, corrected the spelling, made him read it aloud. Sonetines, he read. I stopped him, made him say sometimes, hum the mmmm. He practiced humming then asked if he could stay in the room to copy his paper over. He wrote slowly, keeping his eyes on the words, as if they might slip away. Midway, without looking up, he asked if I’d read Heningway.
Hemmmingway, I said. Mmmm.
Mmmm. He smiled, or half smiled, hiding bad teeth. He’d read the one about the man with the fish, read it in Spanish. Did I like teach literature, he asked. I loved to teach it, I said, stressing the to. I was a poet, I added. I loved Neruda; did he know Neruda?
Both hands flew to his heart. His smile forgot to hide his teeth. And he gave me Neruda, the last of the twenty love poems, his voice rising, his face like the old man’s when he feels the fish take, feels the line running, running, taut, sure, his.
—from Rattle 29, Summer 2008