I was reading Where the Sidewalk Ends again and this poem reminded me of someone.
The first time I was introduced to Shel Silverstein was 4th grade, Mr. Piana’s English class. Piana. rhymes with Diana. First love of my life.
Imagine a rounder version of Bono in a dark blue dress shirt that fitted him so well, you could see the roundness of his belly protruding through his pants. He had these eyes that could look at you like you were the only person in the room. And when he read Lazy Jane out loud to the class, he didn’t just read the poem, he performed each word with such clarity and charisma that you couldn’t take your eyes or your attention off of him for even one second.
We had these reading sessions once a week where everyone would share excerpts from their writing journal. This one girl, Deana, rhymes with Leeana, read her journal entry about a dream she had the other night. The dream was about her boyfriend who came into her bedroom during the night and how this excited her and made her feel all weird inside. She would toss her hair from left to right when she read her journal out loud to the class. She giggled at all the awkward moments so precisely, you would think she had rehearsed the entire performance the night before. All the boys were really into her story and wanted to know if her boyfriend banged her into the night and all the girls in the class just wished this crazy story would end soon because they didn’t want to hear about Deana’s slutty exploits. After 15 minutes of listening to Deana’s tween sexual desires and confusions, Mr. Piana politely complimented her writing skills. He didn’t indulge her or anything. He was so mature that way. He spoke to her like an adult and moved on. I remember telling myself, “Nice try, Deana, but Mr. Piana’s in love with me, not a ho bag like you.”
I knew this because Mr. Piana told me himself. It was during my drawing sessions during class. I had these erratic moments during English when I would just bust out my crayons and start drawing things when I had nothing else to do. And during one of these moments, when I was drawing a fruit bowl, Mr. Piana came over to me and whispered, “Tu-Anh, that is really good. I would love it if you could make me a copy.” I was over the moon with happiness! Mr. Piana, love of my life, just confessed his true feelings to me! Of course, he couldn’t just out right and say “I love you,” what with all the other kids sitting so nearby. He was such a tease that way. So that night, I took out the cleanest sheet of wide ruled paper I had and drew the most gorgeous fruit bowl. It took me a lot longer to finish. I was nervous, what can I say? I mean, I’d done plenty of fruit bowls before. A lot, actually. So much that I was dealing them out to other kids like a deck of cards. But this one. This one was for Mr. Piana. I drew every grape with precision. I added shadow and highlights. I crosshatched in the shadow of the bowl and did some stippling in the oranges for texture. I even drew a banner on top! This was particularly difficult, because if you didn’t know how to draw a waving banner correctly, you’d end up with a funky rectangle. I couldn’t do that to Mr. Piana.
So the next day when I went to school, I made sure I had the cutest outfit on. White tights and a yellow Tweety Bird tee-shirt that was knotted to the side. My fruit bowl masterpiece was safe in my trapper keeper. When I approached his desk that afternoon to tell him I had his picture ready, he acted really surprised. Such a tease, I tell you! And when I gave him the fruit bowl piece de resistance, his eyes just lit up. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, I just knew. And then, the moment that ruined my life forever. He said, “Thank you” and placed the picture next to a photo of his wife and kid. His wife and kid! She was thin and gorgeous and red haired. His baby boy inherited his mother’s fine features and fiery hair. They all looked so happy in that photo. All the while, my heart broke in two. I mean, this was the man I wanted to marry so that he could read me to sleep every night and look deeply into my eyes for the rest of my life. He was my Mr. Piana.