Lemon-Scented Bivouac  

Fatherly and, eventually, teacherly blather. Also: graphic design, baseball, synthetic fabrics, jug band music and, lord help us, the occasional politics.

Sunday, September 14, 2003  

So after a week of readings, group discussions, long class sessions and reflection papers; and a week of observing a school-which-cannot-be-named (confidentiality issues), I have left but one minor note behind on the proceedings.

So here's the big note. For the first and (almost certainly last) time, I'm posting a poem I wrote to this site. The major class assignment in this first unit was to create, gulp, an artwork that summarized all the feelings and reasonings and such in response to this class. After considering an ambitious video project and writing half a (gulp) song, I whipped out a bit of the old ottava rima.

The only thing I think I have to explain is that one of the videos shown in a class session documented a very poor school with leaky ceilings, broken light bulbs and constant smoke from a coal-fired furnace. The rest either works or it doesn't.

First Students

In his dream (as he lies in his bed with the feeling
of plastic impressed on his skin) he wades
through hallways as flooded as oceans, the ceilings
streaming with water. He climbs to a light bulb and fades
into the room where my son sleeps beside me. Kneeling,
he lifts him upward through several steep grades
to a plateau. He lifts my son high in the air,
points his face to the lower ground. “There,”

he says, “is the building where a battle took place,
and as a battleground, you can see where smoke
rises. My people, they know to turn their faces
from the smoke of a windblown fire. Look:
All around, the doors of the peoples’ houses
turn away from that place, and the safes are locked.
Most of those people fought so long ago
they are once again children, and do not want to know

what goes on there,” he says, and lowers my son
to his side and tells him: “My people believe
that those who have fought in battle and won
must teach the young.” Then he rolls up his sleeve
and shows a tattoo of copier ink, a run
of rows and circles. Near the end it still bleeds.
“Now I will tell you,” he says to my son (still
too young to speak, swaying on the high hill).

“I will tell you about a creature, not a man.
It has standard eyes. It says: Great minds
think alike. It can count ability as it scans.
It has thirteen ears, and one mark behind
each ear. Each mark, if it fails you, can
turn you old as a man at the end of his time,
whose friends have all passed.” He freezes.
“Worse than all punishment, this creature seizes

Your tongue. Your crooked words are corrected
straight as a ruler, flat as a mark on a screen.
Words that had traveled through mouths would infect it!
Words that have been sealed in books are clean.
It has no tongue of its own; it selects its
speech by instruction of a machine.
It is a machine. You must understand
a collection of rules is a machine, not a man.

It is a creature so large that men can walk through it.
Some men have been so deceived by its size
that they went hunting for it and never knew it
was all around. Some men looked for its eyes
to destroy them, but wound up staring through its
eyes instead, and became what they said they despised.
It is a creature, a machine, but men, all the same,
form it. And your father has its name.”

Then he wakes, and his dream is my dream. I know
I must find my son, in the hallway still flooded.
I climb along a fallen stair, and go
to the hall, corroded, the lockers muddied
and lightbulb broken. My passage is slow
through this vessel, which runs as if with blood.
I find my son safe, sleeping soundly
in a paper boat, the water all around.

  posted by Andy @ 8:03 PM §

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