Miss Bishop assigned us the task of writing a sestina
while she was out of the room.
Hers weren’t so easy, with fifteen
or so drafts, but ours had to leap
right out of our heads, in proper sequence,
arranged to strike the reader as clever.

No one ever told me I was clever
or that I was smart enough to do a sestina
I got it mixed up every time—the sequence—
and couldn’t do meter. When she left the room
I tried for a while, then gave up. Fifteen
minutes had gone by, and I wanted to leap

right out the window. Even today I’d leap
in order to prove I am clever,
I who flunked Latin and trig before I was fifteen,
and still can’t manage a complete sestina
While Miss Bishop was out of the room
I made a chart but still screwed up the sequence.

In fact, I think it’s absurd, a fixed sequence
of six words weaving in and out, not even a leap
into chaos or free verse. We huddled in that room
and tried not to moan and groan. Joan, most clever
of all the students that year, finished her sestina
and showed it off when Miss Bishop returned fifteen

minutes after she had left. “Class, your fifteen
minutes are up,” she said, and took our papers in sequence—
each student taking the stack, adding his sestina
or hers. And Miss Bishop was more than willing to leap
to the conclusion that I had not tried to be clever,
for those terrible fifteen minutes in the yellow room.

It’s not that I hated Miss Bishop, or wanted a Home Room
assignment, more relaxed with a teacher who thought fifteen
minutes not enough to demonstrate how clever
or stupid we were. One mistake in the sequence
and Miss Bishop assumed we were not able to do a sestina
or anything else worth her time. We might as well leap,

hold hands and leap out the window of that yellow room—
we who could not do a sestina in no more than fifteen
minutes, using a sequence of six words—like Miss Bishop, clever.


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