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 shiny

timeless 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 a hundred 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 our 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