NOTE: I live in Wakefield, Massachusetts and teach at Boston University. For August, a month not usually dedicated to the activity, two poems about learning—or failing to—in different voices. Also, in view of the month’s optional theme of “Clothing,” I’ve appended an epigram. I’ll have a new book out in October. It’s peculiar, anything but short, and titled The Posthumous Papers of Sidney Fein.
What Did You Learn Today?
In History we’re doing China. The book says
that Emperor Wen had only four concubines.
Marsha said concubines rhymes with porcupines
but Ms. Roth wouldn’t tell us what they are.
Do concubines have lots of prickly quills?
We explained to the substitute, Ms. Carpenter, that
Mr. Keller had his stroke just when he was starting
to explain how to multiply and divide fractions
and that’s why we only know how to use decimals.
After that, Ms. Carpenter stopped being mad at us.
In English we learned that Shakespeare may or
may not have written what Shakespeare wrote.
This disgusted everybody but most of all Todd,
who said it was as bad as Schrodinger’s cat.
Ms. Roth asked him who Schrodinger was.
We learned about syllogisms. You know. Syllogisms.
All pine trees are conifers. Spruce trees are conifers too.
Therefore spruce trees are pine trees. No, wait. That
can’t be right. Well then, something about this guy
named Socrates being a man and being dead.
We’re studying the Constitution. America has a bicameral
legislature which means two humps. The Senate hump
has two old men from every state, even the smallest,
while the House hump is chockfull of representatives.
Oh, and the President has to be thirty-five years old.
I learned that Joe Barrish once had ringworm and
that Phil’s real father died when he was only seven.
I figured out that girls are softer and tougher than boys
but just as mean and that it’s calming to stare at trees
since they always know what to do and never look at us.
All you do is look, hear, touch
and never see, feel, listen.
You like surfaces and
circuses, awnings, balustrades,
and brand new dimes that glisten.
But take this painting. Yes, it’s just
a white bowl with five peaches;
yet if you concentrate on
how deep the artist reaches
you’ll see that he’s given us
the veritable fruit-an-sich;
taste the blush of pink, hear the
fuzz’s softness —that’s his trick.
Focus on this four-voiced hymn
to Bach’s complex God; it’s dear
to soulful mathematicians
and might teach you how to hear.
Run your nose over a child’s
crown, your fingers through her hair;
hike up the nearest mountain
and gulp down the sweet, thin air.
Unwilling to let go their teens
Or subsist on rice and greens
They’ve made a market for stretch jeans.
“What Did You Learn Today” first appeared in Apt
© 2018 Robert Wexelblatt
© 2018 Robert Wexelblatt
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