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Chalk-Circle Compass


First comes conscience—
care about the circle,
guilt about the oblong
or the wobble.

Then comes the innocent
to the board to parse the arc,
sketch the wedge,
to breathe onto the slate

as if wholesomeness could set
it free, as one would pat
a bubble from a baby after milk.
A rustic udder,

an orb with fingers,
is a poor example
of geometry. Only
if one were teaching awe

would one approve the hand-drawn
oddball
this arm's-length wooden compass
cannot give to the world.

Only if circumference went feral
or was, originally, a wild thing,
would you try your rough unaided hand
at a ring worth teaching.

But you could draw them both, teach
love for unmatching eyes
on the blackboard—one bearing
personality's squint,

the other seeing so well through history
it never fills with history's litter,
the sterling circle,
the one whose tearless shape

hurts the child enough
to—long after the examination—
stay somewhat ideal
in her, in him, like

just what it is, a ripple.


Sandra McPherson

Certain Uncollected Poems
Ostrakon / Swan Scythe Press


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