ARGUMENTS ABOUT THE WORLD
The things you said were untrue:
there is not a reality that exists
outside of me. No life somehow
more authentic than this one.
If you know so much about the world
then tell me where to find it.
Was it the world that I touched
each time I touched an oil-soaked metal flange
in the giant industrial warehouse?
It didn’t feel real, but maybe
I wasn’t paying enough attention.
Was it that my coworkers were racist
and unhappy; that this was the only job
they would ever have, for all the years
of their lives? Or just that there was no heat
in winter, no cooling in summer, making all work
more difficult, pained? And the work itself—mundane and particular:
line up all these metal pieces and count them, or
box up this many pieces and take them
to this factory.
Is suffering the world, or boredom?
And those years spent living downtown
among the poor and crazy, each day
the adventure of leaving the apartment—
who would be using our stoop as a resting place,
would they be passed-out
or awake, move aside
so I could wheel my bike by,
or try to say something
in that common, broken language?
The girl there breast-feeding at 6 a.m.—
she is not feeding, is merely
bothering her child, who wants to sleep.
Ragged, tranced-out, wild
from sleeping the night
against our porch column—was she real? Did she think
she was the world? Had I touched her
would I have known what it was like,
what you’ve been telling me all these years?
* * *
I have to return now to the empty classroom
and teach Roy Redman how to speak English.
I have to atone for my sins.
He stands at my desk and wants to know why
I circled chirren, in red,
a hundred times in 5 pages, his essay
about being a young father, he says
when you’re a mom or dad you got chirren.
I spelled out children at the top of the page
and he mouthed the word there, over and over,
another class dragging in, the next teacher
erasing my words from the board behind me.
I gave him nothing and it’s too late now
to go back. I gave him nothing
and it’s too late. He dropped out,
came to my office just once, to tell me—
fists trembling—that his papers were A’s,
not F’s, and that he knows how to talk,
doesn’t need anyone helping him.
I can handle my business, he kept saying,
nobody can handle my business but me.
Chirren, children, the vague threat
in my office, tell me quickly: which part of this
was not the world?
* * *
How did you learn so much about all of this,
and how did I miss it? How will I know the world
when I see it; by what markings
is it identified?
I confess: it feels real
as I walk through it, even as it’s terribly beautiful,
and I pass the fountains or sculpture,
it seems like the world. But
this isn’t about me, my days; it’s about you,
and all the things you said. I’m trying
to get you to be quiet.
I keep filling up the pages
until you’ve had enough.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010