During his second year in our community, Dmitri, now seven and a half years old, became relaxed and natural. He participated in everything that did not require his performing before a group. When a child or children memorized and practiced a poem to recite to our class and then took it on tour around the campus, Dmitri shuddered. If invited to join someone in doing so, he recoiled in horror, but he watched with lively interest as two children went to the front garden and sat on the bench under the tree to memorize a poem. He peeked out the door into the rear garden and listened as a child delivered lines from atop the tree house to another child on the far side of the fence.
One morning Dmitri walked past me saying, “I might decide to read one of those poems, but just to myself.”
“Only to yourself,” I nodded.
“Not memorize it,” he emphasized. “Just read it,” I repeated. “I see.”
Dmitri passed by with a poem in his hand. “I’m not reading this to anyone else, just to myself.”
I smiled and nodded.
“Let me see which one you’ve chosen. ‘The Eagle’! I like this part, ‘the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.’ Why do you think Tennyson says that?”
“If you’re up that high on those crags, the sea would look small and the big waves might look like little wrinkles . . . maybe,” Dmitri proposed.
“Ah, yes! And this too, ‘ringed by the azure world he stands.’ What kind of world is that up there where he stands close to the sun?”
“Is something ringing?” he wondered.
“Azure is a kind of blue and he is ringed around by that blue. What blue would be ringed around him in a circle up by the sun?”
“Oh, it’s the blue sky!”
“Which part do you like?” I asked, planning to secure his interest and dedication by making sure he savored all the words and relished the phrasing and meaning.
“Like a thunderbolt he falls!” Dmitri proclaimed, eyes glowing. “But I’m not memorizing this poem, only reading it. And I’m only reading it to myself.”
“Only reading it and only to yourself,” I confirmed with solid affirmation. “What do you like about that line?”
“It’s fast. I’m going out to the front garden now.” He grinned nervously. What secret plans was he concealing? I wondered, and I waited, resisting any temptation to urge him on.
“I can read it really well, but I’m not reading it to anyone,” he said when he returned to the room.
“Just to me?” I asked.
“Maybe just to you.” And he did.
“I’m not reading this poem to the class,” he said excitedly. “To the librarian?” I ventured.
“Just to the librarian.” And he did.
“That’s all,” he said. “Not to the class.” By then I was really suspicious, but also very careful not to shock the delicate tendrils reaching toward new territory.
“Only to the director of admissions?” I ventured. These were familiar and well-liked people whose office spaces the children traversed daily on their way to our second restroom and for supplies.
“Only to the director of admissions,” Dmitri agreed, and off he went with charged but delighted confidence.
“I’m not saying this poem to the class,” he proclaimed upon his return, eyes sparkling with delicious dread.
“Not today, but tomorrow?” I risked.
“Yes, tomorrow. Tomorrow I will,” he said, eyes wide with disbelief. And so he did.
“I’m not taking this poem on tour of the whole campus,” he said unconvincingly.
“Dmitri, does that mean you’re touring today or not until tomorrow?” I teased.
“Now!” he said. “Oh, no, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” But he did.