in absentia

Every english teacher is a failed actor,
an english teacher once told me-

he was a failed poet,
if there is such a thing-
and recalled often nostalgically
how he held the microphone for allen ginsberg
in central park,
one summer...

he used to shuffle about the room
holding the norton anthology
like it was a scene from hamlet
overpronouncing the syllables
and making the latino girls groan
when he mispronounced lorca.

he said that poetry
was the conversation between
heart and mind
a transmission of emotion
that travelled between a world that understood
and one that never could

only the emo kids got this,
and nodded as though they understood
gripping the wrists they had tried to free
from society's manacles.

in the mornings, during homeroom,
he used to read his sonnet of the day,
except the day before christmas,
when he read My Last Duchess
and asked the class to consider the materialism
of the coming holiday season.

once a year, in the spring
he held the school's annual poetry contest
suggesting poems for those who didn't know
and listening expectingly to those who did
when they got up to read in front of the class.

he had a weak spot for cummings, blake, and berryman,
but nothing placated him like ginsberg
so it was not often surprising when a go-getter girl
read 'selections from Howl' in a manner they had practiced
with him on monday afternoons,
and thursdays
during the free period.

one november,
it came out-

he had been sleeping with some of the girls,
who had come by for help with their verses
and found him.

he was investigated, arrested and indicted
the girls were supeonead to testify against
him, and cried
as they recalled how much they loved him
and didn't blame him, and how beautiful he made the words
for those who hadn't thought of them.

he was found guilty.

one weekend, his wife came to clean the room
taking down the photograph of whitman on the wall,
the somber rendering of poe in charcoal,
the picture of ginsberg addressing the crowd at prague
having just been crowned king of the may
back to the camera, arms raised
like a literary messiah.

she took down the large definitions of poetic terms
from the sides of the chalkboards,
and brought the clumps of paper and posterboard
to the dumpster in the back,
and discarded them.

when we got back,
with a new teacher,
with rumors of the trial floating like hungry coyotes
down lockered halls,
the only thing that remained in the room
was the one thing she couldn't reach:
is the conversation between
heart and mind
a transmission of emotion
that travels between a world that understands
and one that never can'

it never came down.

even after the teacher was killed in prison,
in a fight,
and the school was condemned for asbestos
in 1995.
even then,
when the halls were gutted
the banners taken down,
the teachers and students moved
to a school across the street.

even then,
the words remained,
the words of the failed poet
the english teacher,
who said that all english teachers were failed actors

except him.