My first day’s grim lecture on scansion,
and a couple making out in the last row.
Why not, it’s a poetry class, so I
let them continue. They seemed baroque
and unafraid—knotted, tonguing.
The dim urban low-ceilinged space,
now a rose garden for necking
and reading sonnets in. The truth,
I was green and the students common,
their faces looking lonely: immigrants,
mainly poor, a few sleeping (the damned
who’d worked all night) and a mother
who’d brought her squalling baby.
Altogether, we were crude but not dead,
so eventually I stopped, and we watched
the couple until the very end.
I got up at eight to get some grading done.
Mispellings. Morning coffee. TV.
The dog threw up something yellow.
The pile of essays so high or so tired,
it shaped the air like a body.
The assignment: to write about a difficult time.
Dead dogs and grandparents,
bogus love, drugs, fatness, etc.
And then the one that came from nowhere,
by the girl with the gazing face.
She and her parents were held in a prison camp
in Vietnam. Once a day, they were allowed
to pee and shit from a small bridge
into a pond that was also their drinking water.
She was sold as a sex slave to a man in Florida.
She was kept naked; he would come home,
push her nipple between his teeth.
Eventually, learning enough English
from TV, she escaped to become
the manager of a bakery.
He was older than the rest, appeared
motherless, solitary in the crowded class.
I remember his bad clothes and skin,
though he was not unhandsome.
His writing was mostly sane:
characters in pain trying to meet women.
I tried to help—placed him in groups
with the prettiest coeds. He never spoke,
quit the class early, turned in his final story.
Weeks later, I saw him arrested
on TV: a serial rapist—
anaesthetized nurses, a note about
“eating their oxygen.”
He’d crawled all over Tampa/Clearwater,
which is the bottom of America,
an absolute slinking hell
(the only life is the savage nature
that would beat the hell out of any city).
His last story was like the remains
of a mattress, an obscene confessional
or promise from a maniac. The plot:
Dr. Pickelsworth builds
a doomsday machine—
then drunk, fucks a porthole in its side
(this goes on a long time)—he comes
and the world explodes.