Miss Ross had gotten all of us confused
when she suggested Housman meant to play
upon our sense of words. See how he used
the phrase, "Smart lad to slip betimes away."
Is "die young" what he really meant to say,
or did he mean the opposite? We sighed.
For us, it had no meaning either way.
Was there a runner? Had he really died?
For all we knew about it, Housman might have lied.
Miss Carmen Ross was tall, red-haired and not
the sort of teacher found at our high school.
No one provoked us with such a crackpot
perspective, or asked questions that could fool
you into answers. And her ridicule,
however gentle, made her students fear
to give a dull response. Wasn't there a rule
that English teachers couldn't ask, Would you hear
me better, if I put my teeth against your ear?
The window held our eyes. We searched the glass
for what the world had parked for us outside.
Does Frost advise that we buy low? What, Class,
did Frost intend in his "Provide, Provide?"
Was it our silence that dissatisfied
Miss Ross, or the senior in the first row
who, lounging back, Beatle-coiffed and tie-dyed,
asked how it was that anyone would know?
If that was what he thought, why couldn't he just say so?
Didn't Frost do just that? Don't his words connote
much more than what they say literally.
If everything that Frost or Housman wrote
was so simply taken that it could be
reduced to quotes, we'd watch it on TV.
And why make poems? Poets could just knit
up sentimental samplers. Irony
is light upon those sins our words commit;
and words are all we have to teach in English Lit.
Miss Ross dismissed us. We went out to lie
in unambiguous sunlight. A few
would swear an honorable oath and die
in Asia. Some would fumble out: I do,
but only to their household goods be true
while others put bad words in quarantine
to hush their kids. My craft is praise to you,
who taught how easy use would contravene
the truth we thought that words were given us to mean.
by Chris Bullard