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THE POEM

One fine sunny afternoon, Little Papa was walking home from school. He was in a very good mood, and that was strange, because only a few hours ago he had a math test, and all he got was a C. Now, little Papa was a pretty good student. True, math was his least favorite subject, but he had always managed to get B’s or A-minuses. Until today that is. But the sun was shining, and school was over for the day. So what if he got a C? He’d just have to work a little harder, and next time he would get a B for sure, or even an A.
So he walked home, swinging his satchel, and as he walked, he made up a little poem. The poem just kind of traveled from his feet up through his middle and into his head. He didn’t have far to walk, so the poem was quite short. It went something like this:

I was walking home one sunny day
With a happy song inside my head.
Even though I got a C today
I am not so terribly upset.
Even though I got a C today
I will get an A, just wait and see.
First I’ll have to get a B, but hey!
I will never settle for a C.

All right, so maybe it wasn’t such a great poem, but it rhymed and it made sense, and for an eight-year old boy, it wasn’t bad at all. Anyway, it was little Papa’s first poem ever, and he was very satisfied with it, the way it just popped into his head out of nowhere.
When he got home, he wrote it down on a sheet of paper. And later, during dinner, he proudly presented it to his parents. They liked it so much, they didn’t even get angry at little Papa for getting a C in math.

“Wow! Did you really write this all by yourself?” asked his dad.
“Yep,” said little Papa modestly.
His parents exchanged a strange look, and then looked back at little Papa as if seeing him for the first time.
Right there and then, little Papa knew he was going to be a poet.

From that day on, whenever little Papa’s parents had some friends over (which happened quite often), they would call little Papa into the living room at some point in the evening, and ask him to read his poem. At first little Papa was a little shy. He would shuffle his feet, blush, and had to be asked two or three times before he read out his poem in a trembling half-whisper. But as time went by, he really got into the act, swinging his arms and declaiming in a clear and ringing voice, and then modestly lowering his eyes for the well-deserved applause. The guests were very impressed. They would clap, pat little Papa on the head, and congratulate his parents on having such a clever and talented son. “You’ve got yourself another Pushkin there!” they would exclaim. “Another Shakespeare!”
This went on for some time. Little Papa began to enjoy his performances, to look forward to the attention and the praise. But, as they say, pride comes before the fall.
One evening, everything went as usual at first: the poem, the applause, the clapping, the pats on the head. Then one of the guests, a man with glasses and a little beard, coughed into his fist and said: “Ah, you know, I could swear… I could be wrong, of course… but I could swear I’ve read this poem before… I think it was in the children’s magazine my son reads… Yes, I do believe that’s where I saw it, the exact same poem…”
There was an uncomfortable silence after that. Little Papa stood there, still the center of everyone’s attention, but not in a good way. He tried to say something, but couldn’t. He blushed and hung his head. His parents exchanged a strange look, and then looked back at little Papa as if seeing him for the first time.
His dad finally cleared his throat. “So!” he said a little too loudly, turning to the guests. “Who would like more tea?”

Later, back in his room, little Papa tossed and turned in his bed. He just didn’t get it! He was sure it was his poem! He had never even seen that stupid magazine! Well, maybe he had read an issue or two, but he had never seen the poem, he was sure of that! Pretty sure anyway… It was his poem, his, and now that bearded man had stolen it from him. And the worst thing of all was that everyone had believed that man!

Well, I wish I could tell you that little Papa went and found that magazine, and then showed it to everyone to prove that his poem wasn’t there at all, that the man had been wrong. But this is a true story. Here is what really happened.
The next day at supper, little Papa’s parents asked him if he wrote the poem himself.
“Yes,” said little Papa.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes,” said little Papa.
“Hmm,” said his dad, and bent back to his steaming bowl of borscht.

And that was that. Little Papa’s poem was never mentioned again. Needless to say, he was no longer asked to read it in front of other people. Which may not have been a bad thing, come to think of it. The truth is, he was becoming a little too smug, a little too pleased with himself. For all you know, he would have gone on performing his one little poem for the rest of his life, like some kind of a trained parrot. Instead, even though it was a long time before little Papa ever wrote another poem, he eventually did, quite a few in fact, and songs as well. He didn’t become another Pushkin or Shakespeare, but some of his things weren’t bad at all. And most importantly, what he did write was his and his alone. No doubt about it.

And guess what: little Papa did get a B on his next math test, and an A on the one after that. So there…

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