I watch the clock, but when it’s time
to start the class I hesitate.
I’ve fallen in love again with the hum
of voices, students deep in a chat.
On the shore of their heedless ocean,
low roar of easy tete-a-tetes
free from my bell-like “Let’s begin,”
I fake-fuss with a stack of notes.
Weeks ago, at the start of the term,
they sat, mostly strangers, silent,
but now they’ve formed a kind of team,
veterans of the poetry front.
Or else poetry is what they are,
their voices anyway, beyond
translation, sense no more than blur,
words in service of pure sound.
Now it’s one minute, now it’s two
past the hour, and still I can’t bear
to throttle this community.
How long can I dumbly stand here?
Some students start watching me
watching them talk and wonder what’s up:
they know I take my job seriously,
that, as teacher, I play for keeps.
But what I want to keep is them,
their insouciance, like Whitman’s animals.
Here’s to the view from the podium!
Then duty demurs: break the spell.
I could tell them what I’ve seen, heard,
or take roll, talk assignments, due dates.
Instead I start to read outloud
as someone sitting by himself might,
near sotto voce, underground stream
feeding in to their general stir:
“Had we but world enough and time...”
They quiet, to catch what’s on the air.
Coming downstairs in the morning
as I read on the couch, she
is at first only a pair of legs
bare up to her thighs,
with no sign the legs couldn’t
go all the way up to heaven.
A second later she is
sitting on the highest step visible
below the living room ceiling and
looking at me through the posts
of the staircase like a child
on Christmas morning getting
her first glimpse of the gifts
under the Christmas tree.
Within that second, she went
from impersonal goddess
descending a cloud-ladder
to bright-eyed little girl,
in between, almost
subliminal, a woman.
For the year we weren’t speaking,
I carried that vision like
a sharp instrument with which
to wound myself
whenever I wished.