Paul Hostovsky

History with a Smile

Rachel Ray has a beautiful smile,
I think to myself in the checkout line.
People have been smiling since Cro-Magnon,
I think to myself a little further on
in the checkout line. It’s hard to imagine
the bad teeth of the poor and the hungry
and the miserable throughout history
with Rachel Ray smiling at you in the checkout line.
But I think I would have liked history more
if Mrs. Manganelli, on the first day
in the 8th grade, had smiled a little like Rachel Ray,
simply panned the room with a timeless
shiny smile and said: “You know, children,
people have been smiling since Cro-Magnon.”
I think that would have made a big impression on me.
I think the first assignment should have been
to smile, to look around the classroom at each other
smiling, and choose one smile
like a project or a special topic–divide up
into pairs and try to imagine
that smile occurring in a different century,
a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand
years ago–in a cave in France, or Pompeii
or Jerusalem or Alexandria or
Virginia. A line of sight, like a ray
beaming out from another time and place–
one person’s smile shedding light
on everything. I think that would have gone a long way
toward my enlightenment. And maybe Bethany
Beauregard in the desk next to mine
with her aristocratic nose and prominent
gums and pointy eye-teeth flaring out
next to her impacted premolars
would have made the French Revolution come alive for me
in a way it never did because Mrs. Manganelli
never smiled, and the first assignment wasn’t
any more or less than the first two chapters
in a used world history book, with only the occasional
gray engraving of someone or other
in a long line of dead people, not smiling.

Paul Hostovsky’s poems appear widely online and in print. He has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and the Writer’s Almanac. He has new work appearing or forthcoming in Marginalia, Slant, Karamu, Eclipse, Fickle Muses, Rock & Sling and others. To read more of Paul’s poetry, visit his website.