|Apr/May 2007 Poetry|
Emptiness has degrees that
those who believe absolutes
never see. How sad it is
for them. The outdoor squash court,
the track, the football field and
the half-length concrete slab with
its backboard and chain mesh,
each splotched from downbursts of rain,
are forlorn. From the puddles
lift steady plumelets of steam.
The tennis court stands alone.
Three luridly lime green balls
are wedged along the fencing.
One of the white cords that stretches
the net between poles is
broke and drags like a shoestring.
An orange tee-shirt is tugged
through a square of the mesh fence
and hangs limp. Its emptiness
is emptiest. The long bend
of the sidewalk leads to pillared
steps and porch of the senior
dorm. I've been called. A former
student, two years back, has locked
herself inside the basement
laundry room. The counselor
explained, that unless I'm there,
she refuses to come out.
The Lecture Hall Door is Open
"Where is truth? Walk out that door. Go to the cafeteria.
Go to the lounge. Sit on a bench in the quad. If you see her
ask the President herself. Truth does not exist. Prove me wrong."
My steps clip to a halt outside the open door. The word "prove"
booms from an alpine horn as the philosophy professor
pitches her stiletto voice so that each face squares off on hers.
The hall is crowded. No one naps. No one sends text messages.
I know her student scores year after year are the highest on
campus. I gaze down the lecture hall aisles and see mastery.
She is loved. This much is true. I have letters from students as
proof. Also true, arthritic knuckles, both hands, have clawed her so
badly that she no longer uses a computer keyboard.
Chalk leaves wobbly scrawls amid her written words, and she must get
injections in the joints twice a month. Is persistence a truth?
Is defiance? What of bravery? I wish she could retire,
but the medications, she says, cost too much—maybe next year—
maybe when she turns seventy. Fleetingly, I want to be
a freshman and slip in the back row pulling off my phone cord.
I would raise my hand and challenge her to her face: "Ma'am, truth may
not exist, but we have to pass the next test, and the next one,
and the final. Mind games don't cut it. We might fail the whole course.
Some answers are false." In me another quieter student
wants to stop her in the hall after class to say, "They say truth
sometimes hurts. They say it will set you free. But from what I've seen
of errors and deceit, Ma'am, I'll take my chance with hurt, so that
someday when I am older, like you, I'll learn how to be free."
Her voice continues to clarion its light across the hall
of upturned faces and into the open door where I stand:
"Philosophy is not about truth. It is about asking
the right questions. And knowing when to ask them. —Test on Friday."
When I get back to my office I promise myself to check
her file. I need to know when she turns seventy. My role in
this long saga will be to lead the search for her replacement.
When candidates come on campus, will I know the right questions?