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Page 190

In third grade, we were given pens -- black wooden cork cylinders
that tapered concavely to rounded nubs. The wider end
had curved slots to receive a pen point (nib). Our desks
had ink wells. Pen points and black ink -- what awful tools
to entrust to eight-year-olds! Especially boys sitting behind
girls, who, in those days, had all the long hair. But that's
from ancient children's stories. I don't recall any inky pigtails.
I stained only myself and many sheets of innocent paper.

Why did we have to learn "hand writing" -- cursive script?
What's wrong with printing right on the faint blue lines, which,
I assumed, all paper came with. But we had to learn.
(I call myself a writer, after all, not a printer.)

Ink runs, and we had to learn to make our letters run
even faster. I botched it -- still do. You have to tease the meaning,
slowly, from my "hand", a script-tease. My traveling ovals
were crimped and uneven, leaning every which way.
(I have never learned to travel in the right circles.)
My letters (like my character) were blotched and smeared.
So were my fingers, my shirt. Inka dinka doodoo.
The nib would snag on paper (I must have pressed too hard
in my effort to make it go right), then spring free,
sprinkling ink. Sometimes the nib tore the page.

And how unforgiving this ink! I could not
erase it. I tried -- and tore the page. For many years --
adult years -- I used number 2 pencils to fill notebooks
with poems (or some would say they were full of
number 2), until one day I retrieved an old notebook
and opened it to find dim gray graphite smog through which
ghostly words were barely discernable. (These adult years
were really quite young years, but they aged quickly.)

Computer viruses or viri, at least, don't stain my shirts
and fingers. Only my eyes (if I shut them) seem to retain
some faint blotting after hours of staring back at a screen.
Even with my eyes open, my vision becomes haunted
by the maneuvering of shadowy detachments, the ghostly
retinal retinue.

Note: Children's stories used to feature mischievous boys dipping girls' pigtails in inkwells. "Inka dinka doodoo" refers to "Inka dinka doo", nonsense words from an old song (How old? Ask Google. I mainly remember Jimmy Durante singing it on radio (1940s) and on TV in the 50s.) "Doodoo" because of all the ink "droppings".

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