I guess I have to begin by admitting I'm thankful today I don't reside in a country My country has chosen to liberate, That Bridgeport's my home, not Baghdad. Thankful my chances are good, when I leave For the Super Duper, that I'll be returning. And I'm thankful my TV set is still broken. No point in wasting energy feeling shame For the havoc inflicted on others in my name When I need all the strength I can muster To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district. There, at least, I don't feel powerless. There my choices can make some difference. This month I'd like to believe I've widened My students' choice of vocation, though the odds My history lessons on working the land Will inspire any of them to farm Are almost as small as the odds One will become a monk or nun Trained in the Buddhist practice We studied last month in the unit on India. The point is to get them suspecting the world They know first hand isn't the only world. As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class, It's not because I feel obliged to include it, As you, as a writer, may feel obliged. A student may happen to introduce it, As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay About her older brother, Ramon, Listed as "missing in action" three years ago, And about her dad, who won't agree with her mom And the social worker on how small the odds are That Ramon's alive, a prisoner in the mountains. I didn't allow the discussion that followed More time than I allowed for the other essays. And I wouldn't take sides: not with the group That thought the father, having grieved enough, Ought to move on to the life still left him; Not with the group that was glad he hadn't made do With the next-to-nothing the world's provided, That instead he's invested his trust in a story That saves the world from shameful failure. Let me know of any recent attempts on your part To save our fellow-citizens from themselves. In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene Where he appears under guard in a mountain village Should be confined to the realm of longing. There His captors may leave him when they move on. There his wounds may be healed, His health restored. A total recovery Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness A father dreams he can burn away.
Today as we walk in Paris I promise to focus More on the sights before us than on the woman We noticed yesterday in the photograph at the print shop, The slender brunette who looked like you As she posed with a violin case by a horse-drawn omnibus Near the Luxembourg Gardens. Today I won't linger long On the obvious point that her name is as lost to history As the name of the graveyard where her bones Have been crumbling to dust for over a century. The streets we're to wander will shine more brightly Now that it's clear the day of her death Is of little importance compared to the moment Caught in the photograph as she makes her way Through afternoon light like this toward the Seine. The cold rain that fell this morning has given way to sunshine. The gleaming puddles reflect our mood Just as they reflected hers as she stepped around them Smiling to herself, happy that her audition An hour before went well. After practicing scales For years in a village whose name isn't recorded, She can study in Paris with one of the masters. No way of telling now how close her life Came to the life she hoped for as she rambled, On the day of the photograph, along the quay. But why do I need to know when she herself, If offered a chance to peruse the book of the future, Might shake her head no and turn away? She wants to focus on her afternoon, now almost gone, As we want to focus on ours as we stand Here on the bridge she stood on to watch The steamers push up against the current or ease down. This flickering light on the water as boats pass by Is the flow that many painters have tried to capture Without holding too still. By the time these boats arrive Far off in the provinces and give up their cargoes, Who knows where the flow may have carried us? But to think now of our leaving is to wrong the moment. We have to be wholly here as she was If we want the city that welcomed her To welcome us as students trained in her school To enjoy the music as much as she did When she didn't grieve that she couldn't stay