Diane Hueter

Pine Row Issue No. 7 Summer 2023 - Featured Poet

Miss Shaw Teaches Us to Accept Our ABCs

Miss Opal Shaw, virginal matron of the third grade,

white haired priestess of reading, penmanship, multiplication,

stout as a maple or giant pine, marched us, single file

to the lunchroom and library. Doubtless

we were shushed many times. There was no question—

we did not make her proud.


Each day was a copper coin embossed with our silhouettes

that we exchanged without protest

as tribute to our daily lessons:

spelling lists—above, across, again;

the world of nature—seaweed, mountain, moss;

geography—color the oceans and continents,

as instructed,

blue and brown.


Miss Shaw, our cranky Madonna,

wore a maidenly uniform:

black knit dress, tatted cuffs,

and solid lace-up shoes.

We called them granny shoes

when we were teens, wore them

with everything from jeans to moth-eaten

Salvation Army fur coats,

beads and bells and silver rings.


We sold Helixes in the U District,

our fingers inky as the deltas of

Viet Nam, hawking for rent money

that week’s allotment

of smudged wirephotos

of the newly dead,

our nails already yellowing

with tobacco, our days,

our nights, our elementary dreams,

packing up and moving on ahead.

About this poem:  as shared by the poet

True story: Miss Opal Shaw was my third grade teacher. She also taught my father when he was young, in the same schoolhouse. He told me her fiancé had died in WWI and that she had worn mourning ever since. That made such an impression on me, but it didn’t make her (to my young self) any more approachable or human. I remember being both fascinated and apprehensive. The poem has been with me for such a long time, but I didn’t complete a passable draft, a readable poem, until last April, impelled by my wish to read it at the Sowell Collection Conference. It’s obviously not just a poem about childhood, and the most difficult part of writing was bringing in the 60s, Viet Nam, the atmosphere of hope and despair that comes with being young. 

I am working on a manuscript, for my second book. I’m at the stage of trying to see how poems work with each other, how each one contributes to the whole story. There is still a lot of revision to be done. 

Diane Hueter recently left Lubbock, Texas-- a quiet and subtle landscape--to spend the summer on the Olympic Penisula. Her poetry has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Nelle, and SWWIM. Her book After the Tornado appeared in 2013. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  

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