Within Close Range: The Pressure of Writing

She moves up and down the rows of desks,

filled with tiny, crouched figures

hovering over lined paper and clutching #2 pencils.

Filling the aisle with her middle-age width and Avon perfume,

I feel the warmth of her body and breath as she leans over me

and sighs.

We’ve been here before.

I’m just not getting this pencil-holding thing.

I thought I was doing it right.

The letters on my paper look pretty much like everyone’s.

Pretty much.

But every time she stops at my desk, she firmly cups her hand over mine and squeezes hard

until she forces my tiny, anxious fingers

to curl around the long, yellow pencil with the well-worn pink eraser.

“A firm grasp is the key to proper penmanship, my dear,” she says, trying to sound patient about my substandard pencil etiquette,.

Not wanting to disappoint her, again, I clench that pencil as if my very breathing depends upon it,

until my fingers cramp from it,

and the lead of the pencil presses so hard against the paper

that the letters bulge through the opposite side.

When she asks us to turn our papers over and sit quietly until everyone finishes,

I close my eyes and feel each raised letter with my fingertips.

Wondering whether any one else has to press that hard

– work that hard –

to squeeze out the letters and words, and sentences,

so very anxious to burst forth.