Thursday, March 9, 2006

Kathy McGunigle

Kathy McGunigle

I - Remembrance

I knew a woman once, whom I can see,
In my mind's eye, as she appeared when I
First met her, two decades ago, almost --
A little woman, frail with age and cares,

A teacher, just like me, in public school,
In Brooklyn, close by Queens, near water's edge,
But nearing, unlike me, retirement age,
With body worn, but spirit still aglow --

A teachers' teacher, she, whose little frame
Grew energized, when, chalk in hand, she taught
That  subject that she loved, that Chemistry
That she had slowly learned, and mastered, now

To pass it on, with reverence and zest
And knowledge gleaned, through years of teaching kids,
Of all their strengths and weaknesses, and where
They most were prone to stumble, falter, or progress

In their own paths through this, her chosen field...

~ ~ ~

II - Names

She was a teacher in a public school,
Her name was Kathy McGunigle.
The teachers called her by her given name,
The students by her last, her married one.

In deference to age, I called her first
Mrs. McGunigle, and then, with time,
Just Kathy, but for many years she would
Persist in calling me by name not mine,

But of another, younger man, by far --
A bearded, turbaned Sikh, Long Island reared,
Kuljeet Singh Ahluwalia, K-J
For short, of sharper, and more vital mien

Than mine; yet she confused us two for years,
A foible I let pass, in deference
Again to age, and to her virtues strong --
Her friendliness and humble ways, her work,

Her staying late, like me, to finish up,
What in the rush of teaching classes five,
As we both did, with voice and chalkboard filled,
There ne'er was time to tend to or complete.

And in her failing with my name, I saw
A kindred spirit, for, although a face
I'd not forget, a name I sometimes would.
And so, with smile, to “Ahluwalia”,

I did, when called by Kathy, oft respond,
Reminding her, at times, I was not he
Whose name she called, but rather whom she meant,
At which, she would express her great regret.

III - Conversations and Summers 

And we would then converse, on many things
That to us held import, both teacherly
And matters of her family and mine:
Her daughters and their kids, whom she held dear;

Our students rude and pleasant; Malcolm X,
The movie, and the kids' response to it;
Of vectors, and of Kepler's Laws; and how
They managed, other teachers, at school's end,

To rush off home, or pick up kids, or go
To classes, or to other work, so prompt.
"I don't see how they do it.", she would say,
While peering out the windows at the street,

For sign of husband's car, her ride back home
To Rockaway, across the Flatbush bridge,
Where in the summers by the beach she'd stroll
With her grandkids in tow, that sweet respite

From grading, prep and classes that we'd earn
By toiling through ten months of that, to find
Two summer months fly by, so sweet and yet
So fast that we were back again at work

As if it were a dream, that interlude;
And dust of chalk, and lack of sleep and all
That teaching was, as every hour we looked
At sixty eyes anew, and did our best

To keep the brightness of those eyes aglow,
While passing on to them what they must know,
Did keep us in a state as far removed
From summer's lazy days as arctic cold.

< to be continued >

Arjun Janah < >
Brooklyn, New York
2006 March 5, Sun.

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