“Rarely, rarely comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mid-winter we read sonnets. My students slouch:
This has nothing to do with us.
They have almost convinced me.
I skipped the Cavaliers, fast forwarded a hundred years
to avoid the comments that would follow
To the Virgins. I saved one boy’s life from being publicly doomed,
chaste and seemingly unsalvageable.
What could I say?
That we aren’t who we are in high school?
That none of us is anywhere forever?
That we all eventually get laid?
They would sit up, if I said that.
Today, even I want to watch the movie instead,
the octave set on a cliff, the sestet enacted by glamorous people.
I wish for chemistry lab explosions, water main ruptures,
the inexplicable loss of electricity.
Someone send us home.
But curriculum, that nest, presents its full bowl:
Finish, it urges. To my students I say, Come back.
When I do, a bird flies in, a sparrow overhead in frantic swipes.
It wings into a window that never opened,
even in its architect’s imagination.
Where did that come from? How could it enter
this sealed-tight place without a bell-ringing invitation?
Finally — questions that merit response.
My students confess everything: windows sledge-hammered open,
emergency exits propped to allow a seam of spring air.
In the basement I didn’t dream existed, underground as
they skip math, skateboard.
Rooftops, loading docks, doors with mysteriously mangled locks — a species apart divulges.
The custodian arrives with a mop, swabs ceiling tiles,
lights that have blinked off all year in rhythm with our own lapses.
The poor bird whips itself against glass.
Come back, says the world: grass islands,
ice patches forcing reeds, a sky whitened by the portent of weather.
The sparrow dips. We duck, applaud. The custodian
considers, hands on hips, how to get this done without a net.
My students wonder, too, how do we leave
a place and not return, or when we must stay put, elude?
On the chalk tray, the sparrow perches, stone-eyed, heart flashing in his breast.
Everyone looks to me for answers —
the virgins, the once-loved, the envied,
those left behind to clean up when we’re through.
Oh, my audience, my grounded ones, I say: Here are words.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 9