Now that the deans and janitors have gone,
I step inside the classroom where I'll teach:
The angles of the room stark Mondrian,
All marble and old ivy out of reach.
On shining vinyl, equidistant desks
Crouch, carved by years of bored or desperate hands:
"Dick Nixon sucks"; "All fascists out of Nam!";
"What answer does he want in number six?"
Up at the front, the master's podium:
A banged-up plywood lecturn perched atop
A prison-made formica table. Here's
Where, when whispered conversations stop,
Lectures descend on unreceptive ears. . . .
No, that's too harsh a judgement. Those fresh minds,
So eager for the credit they must earn,
Must come here for the sake of serious dreams:
Careers guided by truths the seeker finds
Before jobs turn into a maze of schemes,
Or so it seems . . . . no, that's too noble, too
Uncomprehending of their avarice.
They want to learn to earn; but very few
Know useful answers to the Final Test.
Their teachers cannot help here; we too are
Indebted to the bank for the wrong things:
Old sins and future longings of the heart:
Remodeled rooms, ski trips, the second car,
The first run of No Exit signed by Sartre.
Semesters cycle by; the articles
And books we'd write to elevate us to
Some vaunted college's high-vaulted halls
Become something we hadn't time to do.
And so: less brilliant students, four-course loads,
Three to an office, cut-cost rooms like this,
Which surely tell our clients that all schools
Are places to get out of: just side roads
To major highways, policed by graded rules.
But even in this mood, the soul rebels
At such bleak judgement of the ancient rite.
Our ancestors, beneath the cloistered bells,
Illuminated lessons of God's might;
And on the marble stairs of classic Truth,
Sly Socrates taught Plato how to teach;
And in the desert's bitter exile, there
The tribal seers spoke Yahweh to their youth:
The goal of life is bringing things to bear.