The green catalpa tree has turned All white; the cherry blooms once more. In one whole year I haven't learned A blessed thing they pay you for. The blossoms snow down in my hair; The trees and I will soon be bare. The trees have more than I to spare. The sleek, expensive girls I teach, Younger and pinker every year, Bloom gradually out of reach. The pear tree lets its petals drop Like dandruff on a tabletop. The girls have grown so young by now I have to nudge myself to stare. This year they smile and mind me how My teeth are falling with my hair. In thirty years I may not get Younger, shrewder, or out of debt. The tenth time, just a year ago, I made myself a little list Of all the things I'd ought to know, Then told my parents, analyst, And everyone who's trusted me I'd be substantial, presently. I haven't read one book about A book or memorized one plot. Or found a mind I did not doubt. I learned one date. And then forgot. And one by one the solid scholars Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars. And smile above their starchy collars. I taught my classes Whitehead's notions; One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's. Lacking a source-book or promotions, I showed one child the colors of A luna moth and how to love. I taught myself to name my name, To bark back, loosen love and crying; To ease my woman so she came, To ease an old man who was dying. I have not learned how often I Can win, can love, but choose to die. I have not learned there is a lie Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger; That my equivocating eye Loves only by my body's hunger; That I have forces true to feel, Or that the lovely world is real. While scholars speak authority And wear their ulcers on their sleeves, My eyes in spectacles shall see These trees procure and spend their leaves. There is a value underneath The gold and silver in my teeth. Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives, We shall afford our costly seasons; There is a gentleness survives That will outspeak and has its reasons. There is a loveliness exists, Preserves us, not for specialists.
From Heart's Needle by W. D. Snodgrass, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1957, 1959 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission.