"Down cellar," said the cricket
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

I remember being escorted
by the principal
on my first day in a new school
into the 3rd grade classroom
at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School
in Whittier, California,
a sleepy little Quaker town
named for the poet
John Greenleaf Whittier.

It was 1954.
I was 8-years-old.

As we entered Miss Smith's classroom,
with its western wall of windows,
straight rows of desks,
glass-paned bookcases,
a cloakroom and another wall
lined with green chalkboards,
I heard the children reciting
in a sing-songy sort of chant:

"Down Cellar said the cricket
Down Cellar said the Cricket,
I saw a ball last night
And the ladies were dancing
And the ladies were dancing
I saw a ball last night."

Or at least this
is what I remembered
down the years.

One month later,
once again,
we were uprooted.

We relocated to East Whittier,
I enrolled at Evergreen Elementary School.
Sad to say, my new teacher Miss Shea
was not a fan of poetry.

In our third house in Whittier
we had a cellar.
It was turned into a playroom
for my sister and me.

I spent long hours peering
into darkness
in the unfinished portion
of the "basement,"
through under pilings of the house,
into an area where there was nothing
but dirt and spiders,
looking for signs
of a fancy dress ball
where crickets and ladies went dancing.

I loved that poem
but could only remember
those six lines.

This was before computers
and Google and Wikipedia
and the Internet.

For years I searched bookstores
and library shelves to no avail,
hunting for a poem about
potatoes in a cellar witnessing a ball.

The years passed,
I began to write
my own poems
and Haiku
with crickets mentioned
in passing.

I attended balls on my own,
in puffy bustled-gowns
with crinolines
and embroidered
Italian shawls.

I had a daughter.

When she was 8-years-old
I bought her a book
of poetry for children.

In its pages I found the poem
I had loved so well and for so long.

The poet was Vachel Lindsey.

I looked her up on the Internet
only to find "she" was a "he,"

a "he" who greatly admired
Abraham Lincoln,
the namesake
of my childhood elementary school.

but I wish I had not read the lines—
lines that said "Vachel Lindsey
committed suicide
in 1931 at the age of 54."

It was likely this poet
was my earliest inspiration
to become a poet.

Read the actual poem at Poetry Nook:
"Down cellar," said the cricket
by Vachel Lindsay

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