It was a week before the big presentation and I still hadn’t memorized a poem to recite.
Thumbing through my notebook, I realized that none of my own poems would work. They were too silly, too amateur, too… weird. “An Ode to Toilet Paper”, really?
A poem suggestion floated through my mind and stuck there. “The Raven.” Of course. I had always loved that poem. The cadence, the mysterious Lenore, and the poetry of “the night’s Plutonian shore” had always held my admiration.
For the next week I studied the lines and practiced my elocution. The night of the presentation, my class met at a pizza restaurant. As the parents chatted animatedly about who knows what, my friends asked me what I was going to recite. I answered with a smile, and gripped my copy of the poem in my pocket as they told me about their own acts.
We drove to the school and seated ourselves somewhat nervously in front of the district council members. My sister went first. She shakily recited “Bingen on the Rhine”, fighting nervous tears the whole time. She hurried to her chair with relief as one lady praised the way she “projected her emotions.”
Next it was my turn. I delivered eight stanzas without missing a beat, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I paused for effect, and took a deep breath, readying myself for the ten stanzas that were still to come, which were my favorite. I caught the encouraging eye of my public speaking teacher, and opened my mouth for the next verse – a moment too late.
My voice was cut off by the clapping of the crowd. Their smiles looked mocking, and their applause pushed me with an invisible but firm hand to my seat. I sat through the rest of the performance, unsure of whether to laugh or to cry, debated with myself as to whether or not they had actually thought I was done. Had I been tactfully ushered off the stage?
As our group shuffled out of the building, I was showered with praise. “Great job on memorizing such a long poem!” one said, and I bitterly reflected that I hadn’t even gotten halfway through. “You made me so excited to hear what happened next!” exclaimed another. I wondered if she realized that the story hadn’t even reached its climax.
My parents bought my sister and me ice cream on the way home. They said it was a congratulatory present, but I wondered if they were just trying to make me feel better.
That night I dreamt of a huge black raven, with Poe himself behind him, clapping.