Planted in her chair behind the wooden desk.
Her eyes and mouth like slits,
squeezed by the starched-white wimple,
her face hard and fixed, but her voice roiled up from the depths,

“‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ or when sounding like ‘a,’
as in neighbor or weigh. Spell ‘ceiling,’”
She boomed. “Spell ‘inveigh.’”

It didn’t matter that no one knew the meaning,
as long as we could spell it.

I spelled dutifully, when she looked in my direction,
because I didn’t want to be like the boy she called “Boobie Bealer.”
I didn’t want to get hit by a flying eraser.

She had a good arm for a nun.
Hunching forward she’d swing her pointer like a switch,
cracking out the rhythm
as we recited times tables in simple sentences.

Six times four is twenty-four.
Six times five is thirty.
Six times six is thirty-six.

I’ll never regret learning those tables.
It helped me remember how to remember.

And later with a degree in English,
when I worked as a waitress,
I never had to use a calculator to add up a check.
I could easily recall and recite the specials of the day.

And the poems I wrote and read aloud after my shift
had a natural, inner rhythm.