I’m working today on the manuscript of a chapbook of poems about teaching and working as a professor. The working title is Each Other’s Anodyne, in which case this is the title poem.
I posted it as a note on Facebook two years ago. During Wisconsin’s Arab(esque) Spring.
The ice on our streets and sidewalks, the way the snow is crunchy, the way slush turned to gray iron–it would be so treacherous if we were protesting in Madison today. So I’m glad we’re not.
In general, the political turmoil is overall lower, and I am relieved–I felt wiped out emotionally and spiritually by that spring, and the failed recall didn’t help revive me. Other things have helped. The passage of time has helped.
Finding this poem again for the manuscript brings it all back, though, and I have to ask:
How much has changed, really?
This poem still resonates with me. (And I still need to revise the second sonnet to focus more on Firefly.)
(It’s a crown of sonnets, if you’re into form at all.)
EACH OTHER’S ANODYNE
The weary teacher lays his pen aside
And rubs his eyes, says to his wife, “All right,
I’ll come to bed.” They both know he will try
To grade some more in the morning. All through the night
Another teacher wakes up anxious, mad
At everyone. She yells at her husband and son,
But it’s not their fault. It’s not the teachers’ fault.
In a dark time, our hard work shines too bright.
We’re public target practice. We’re spittoons.
For a time, a shining time, we were solid
In the middle class, rewarded for working hard
To help synapses snap and shimmer in the light.
Tempus fugit, damn it, sad but true:
The best shows all get cancelled way too soon.
The best shows all get cancelled way too soon.
Post-modernly they hooked us and we swooned
At heroes rounding all the genres up
To drove them o’er the plains. Inspire us!
The hooker with the heart of brass blew up
The patriarchy, blam! The runt did chin-ups
Until he made the winning catch, two times.
The rocket rounded earth, accompanied by chimes
At midnight, and we, we got attached too fast
To what the larger corporate sponsor failed
To see a profit in. It couldn’t last,
But we had no idea the cruise ship had sailed.
We made a snack and snuggled, and watched the show.
The nights were longer then, with deeper snow.
The nights were longer then, and deeper snow
Made driving slower. Now darker days have come
Despite the later sunsets. We didn’t know
How sweet it was—our biggest worry was some
Stupid internet scam our students fell for—
An octopus living in trees. Like always, slow
In winter—we did our jobs, shoveled some more,
And then the Packers won the Super Bowl!
For Valentine’s, our governor went nuclear.
So far he’s systematic—everything
We care about, he wants to cut. Budget despair
Has set in hard. It will not ever be spring.
Thick fog, black scabs of snow, raw time, hard earth.
But up in the gray, three sand hill cranes, flying north.
Up in the gray, three sand hill cranes, flying north.
Inexorably, the seasons change. They do.
But broken-hearted, raw, beleaguered blue—
We cannot trust the calendar. It’s death
We see when we look around—dead trees, dead grass
Below the layered shale of sooty ice.
Just like “always winter and never Christmas,”
We long for a miraculous thaw or a looking glass.
Not knowing is the worst; at least we think
It is—we’ll think that until we learn the worst.
However far we’ve learned our hopes can sink,
they’ve sunk so far, and farther, and farthest.
We thought we had a thaw, but it froze again.
The ditches are full of ice. But it is thin.
The ditches are full of ice, but it’s too thin
For skating. It makes a satisfying crunch
When you stomp it. Let’s watch the two of them—
These women hiking, sharing a picnic lunch.
One’s tiny—she can almost walk across
The ice before it breaks. Almost. Not quite.
Crashing, they are each other’s anodyne.
One lover catches another and she laughs,
“You silly thing.” And just like that, the tears
come flying out, “I’m sorry I dragged you here.
I can’t even make you my wife. This stupid state
Is stupid. I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.”
“Please don’t hate on my account. Not ever.
We’ve made a home. Your students need you here.”
We’ve made a home where students need us. Here
In the trenches, in the cold and the muck of open admission,
We’re spinning plates for students, showing where
Centrifugal becomes centripetal
With just the right transitional phrase. They take
The plates away from us, they break the glass
Bell jars and ceilings, they celebrate the figures
That animate their dreams the night they made
The quadratic formula prove itself on threat
Of death, organismic, de dicto, real.
Whatever ivory tower there ever was,
It’s gone for good, and most of us are thrilled.
We may stay—we may move on—but we are sure—
If not Wisconsin, somewhere, someone will learn.
If not Wisconsin, somewhere, someone will learn
That when you titillate the lesser devils
Of our nature, when you go all Soviet
And wish my cow would die (you ate your own),
You’re just a toddler berserker tearing down
the walls, affronted when the ceiling lands.
America seemed like such a good idea.
I guess it’s possible it might again.
Uncertain of so much save that we stand,
The union of other and each, screaming
At the snow, we can keep each other warm.
We can be each other’s anodyne,
Inventing for each other a kind of summer
When weary teachers lay their pens aside.
This is what I remember from the protest. Unlike anti-war protests I’d been to in the past, so many of the protestors two years ago were older than me, middle class, looking for all the world like the mild-mannered sort of folk who’d never consider leaving home to protest. When I look at them now all I can think is “heroes.”
The good work goes on. Teachers are still teaching, and even though “Each Other’s Anodyne” is the title poem from my chapbook, it is not the end of the story. This is: “No One Can Stop Us.”
And even though we lost the recall, and the vast majority of the protesting is done, there are still voices out there that inspire me. Recently, Margaret Rozga accepted a Martin Luther King Jr. Award on behalf of her late husband, James Groppi. Her speech was terrific, and the video is inspiring to watch. Her poetry is terrific, and I’m so pleased for her at the attention it’s getting. But you know what else inspires me about Peggy? The years and years and years and years she taught.
[Photo from flickr, Creative Commons. Taken by Richard Hurd on February 19, 2011.]