Emily Strauss, 8/13/2012

Current Occupation: private tutor

Former Occupation: college and adult English and ESL teacher

Contact Information: I have written poetry my whole life and been a teacher my whole life. I have about four dozen poems in public in over two dozen small journals and online venues. I seldom wrote about my work, but sometimes tell stories of my daily life. Teachers have funny nightmares.


Starting Class

A student died after class last Thursday—
He went home, drank a beer, and went to sleep,
Had a heart attack. They told me before class
Tonight, you know, the one who sat in the front,
Smiling, older, they buried him on Sunday

And I stood there and considered mortality
Before their writing summaries, I had to announce
It, I have bad news— someone smiled
In confusion, he couldn’t have been over 45
A girl caught her breath, the eldest man took
Up a collection, I gave my last dollar
I was saving for the laundry.

Now what should I do with his homework?
Give it to his wife and two young sons?
I could drop it off the second story and let
It drift on the wind across the freeway.
How will I fill out the grade form?
Maybe I’ll leave it blank like the empty
Chair in front of my desk. If only he’d
Waited two weeks until after the final.

I wrote “deceased” next to his name
In my roll book. I guess they’ll figure it out.


The English Teacher’s History Class

Suddenly for unknown reasons
I am granted one class at the State college,
In history—
The United States in the Twentieth Century
And I am thrilled, but now in mid-semester
I realize in horror I’ve hardly met the class,
haven’t read one page of the ponderous text, dozens
of footnotes for each chapter, and must lecture
at an appointed hour I invariably miss.
This is my nightmare.

I’m desperate to arrive on time because even now
I remember a handful of eager faces in the front rows
of the theater whom I know have read the book
and expect a lecture of explication. I wonder if
a Socratic discussion of the day’s news would suffice.

In fact, I can’t reach the room, I will never make it.
I am lost hopelessly, the campus paths have changed,
the elevator malfunctions, I must find the correct hallway
or door, or pass through a maze of hotel corridors
or a shadowy bar full of smoke, the clock ticks
and once again I’ll never arrive, eager students will leave

I must read the next chapter
I must leave earlier next time
if I only knew the day and hour
if only I could prepare the inevitable
final exam, at least then I’d salvage
this poor class that has lasted years.

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