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The Reading Boy
Judy Brackett


The reading boy has a dried-milk mustache

and dirt under his fingernails.

He pushes his pointer finger across the page, reads

haltingly, his boyvoice a monotone, gives each word




He hasn’t got the hang of phrases.


Joe and his aunt trade off reading; they’re on page 89;

it’s taken weeks. He reads: “Lassie ... trotted ...

from ... a ... thicket ... and ... came ... to ... the ... shore.”


His aunt reads: “Lassie trotted ... from a thicket ...

and came to the shore.” “See,” she says.

“‘The’ doesn’t mean anything all by its lonesome.

Same with ‘from’ and ‘to’—to what?

They’re just scratches on the page if they don’t link

up with some partners. Look at the chunks, Joe.”


He sighs, finger tapping on the next word.

She can’t help but go on, “You can tell what words

go together, kind of like jello and bananas,

mashed potatoes and gravy,

corn with butter and salt.”


He nods and reads, finger inching: “She ... was ...

moving ... more ... slowly ... now ... for ... the ...

pads ... of ... her ... feet ... were ... bruised ...”


When it’s her turn, the aunt reads quickly,

nearly singing the words: “The current caught her

as a piece of paper thrown from a moving train

is snatched by the wind...”


Joe glances out the window and sees not

the apple trees or the green hills,

but a fast, cold river, the drenched and

frightened collie, and another boy named Joe

who lived in a faraway land.


The aunt reads many pages, and when she hands

the book to him, he shifts his faraway gaze to her

and says, “I have to know.”


She wants to tell him not to look ahead,

not to spoil the book because she thinks

that’s not right, that you have to earn

the ending, happy or sad.


He finds the last page and reads: “... his ... father ...

 and ... mother ... happy .... Joe ... bowed ...

 his ... head ... to ... the ... dog, ... and ... forgot ...

them.” The boy pauses, then continues in a rush:

“‘You’re my Lassie come-home,’ he crooned.”


Joe looks at his aunt with a dreamy smile and says,

“I knew she’d come home. Now I have to find out

how she got there.” He turns away


from her, flips back to the middle of the book,

pushes his finger across the words,

and reads in silence.


© by Judy Brackett.
Used with the author's permission.

Judy Brackett has published short fiction and poems in various journals and, most recently, in The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets (Backwaters Press). She has taught creative writing and English composition and literature at the community college level. Born in Nebraska, Judy moved to California as a child and has lived in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills for many years with her husband, photographer Gene Crowe. Judy has three grown children, four grandchildren, a lively border collie, and a geriatric cat.


Post New Comment:
Mary Lou Taylor:
Touching. This poem warmed my heart.
Posted 03/03/2014 02:26 PM
a lovely story telling kind of poem. It made me happy
Posted 03/03/2014 11:43 AM
Judith Heron:
Oh, yes. This we need to always celebrate. I love that you have done just that, Judy...and I didn't skip to the end, but read it all the way through...for breakfast!
Posted 03/03/2014 11:05 AM
This is my granddaughter, a slow, but never reluctant reader!
Posted 03/03/2014 10:58 AM
Posted 03/03/2014 08:02 AM
Thank you...a beautiful insight.
Posted 03/03/2014 07:58 AM
Every teacher knows and loves this child.
Posted 03/03/2014 06:50 AM
Wonderful - Thanks for capturing the experience of so many of us.
Posted 03/03/2014 05:42 AM

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