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Thursday, Feb. 03, 2005 - 3:59 a.m.

She looks forward to literature class on Fridays because he's always late and has to end up sitting next to her, in one of the few remaining seats in the classroom. She shifts her body slightly as he sits down, and does not look at him. But even without sight, she is keenly aware of his presence. She knows how he takes out his battered notebook first and then stretches his arms. Without looking, she can feel when his attention starts diminishing, and can detect the exact moment when he falls asleep.

The teacher, a disgruntled expatriate from England is writing a number of literary terms on the blackboard. The class had been taught the meaning of these terms, and would be expected to know them for next week's exam. Onomatopoeia, metre, couplet, assonance, metaphor.

With the teacher's back to them, he writes on his notebook and pushes it in her direction - what's assonance? She looks at the question, and realizes how much she likes the curve of his question mark. It represents his honest inability to pay attention. She writes on her own notepad, a line from a poem they studied last week, and underlines the assonant words. Green as a dream, deep as death. Half-rhyme, she writes. He mouths the underlined words silently and comprehends. ;-) , he writes back. For the briefest of moments, his face has the same expression, with his right eye slanted in a half-wink.

Assonance. And then she realizes that their names are assonant too. He was called Jay and the first word of her Chinese name is Rei. The purpose of the half-rhyme is to draw subtle connections between two proximal words in a poem, to construct invisible mental bridges across the border of our conscious perception. When deftly executed in a poem, the reader finds himself thinking of a pair of words, but unable to understand why. Jay. Rei.

Sometimes she writes poems in the school canteen after class, and she always prefers the use of assonance to consonance, which is the full-rhyme of words as in pad, mad, sad. Consonance is too obvious, she thinks - the full- rhyme is forced and artificial, too perfect a fit for so imperfect a world. But assonance is more realistic, with the incomplete agreement of rhyme a more accurate reflection of the state of things. Its understated and indirect nature gives a secret meaning to two words that is both tenuous and profound.

For the rest of the forty minutes she thinks of their names. Jay. Rei.

But the two people behind the names - are they assonant as well? She has to admit that she does not know. Does he believe as she does, in the concept of subtle harmonics, in the SPCA, that poetry could save us all? She recognizes the danger of creating a myth of herself and him, though it is equally possible, that she merely has not discerned the logic to their assonance yet.

The lesson ends and she is the last one to leave; she rests her hand on the doorframe of the empty classroom. Without conscious thought, the lines appear and find their way to her lips. She catches herself saying: and then there were two / one who believed in the assonance of you. She isn't sure if those lines will make it into her next poem. Her hand leaves the doorframe and she walks out into the corridor, considering the quiet, conforming, yet imperfect fit of their two bodies.


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