Mr. Purdy’s Paperback
by Ed Orzechowski

Fringed with remnants of dried masking tape
that once substituted for a binding,
Mr. Purdy’s paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird
was held together by a brittle blue rubber band
stretched taut
itself on the verge
of breaking.

Opened and closed, opened and closed
so many times over so many years
worn by the friction of bringing fiction
to so many ninth grade minds
the disintegrating spine had drifted like dandruff
to merge with the yellow dust
of countless pieces of chalk
onto the classroom floor
swept up by the night custodian
with each day’s debris.

Five classes a day, five days a week
thirty-five years, two semesters a year
marked 350 times that Atticus Finch had defended Tom Robinson
… 350 times that Scout had asked Atticus what rape was.

Mr. Purdy’s briefcase, laden with unread papers,
had become his albatross.

Just one essay a week
meant 125 students produced
375 pages of dead mockingbird scribbling
to adorn with comments and corrections
that consumed his career quota
of cheap red Bic pens.

Unlocking the classroom door in morning darkness
he thought, Didn’t I just do this a few hours ago?
If all the pages fall from the book,
is there no more story to tell?