Plump, bespectacled, prim, he minces into my class, takes a grim look around, and loudly exclaims, What am I doing in this pit of slime, this cesspool full of weirdos? He sounds like a poet, I think. It’s not often I get a student who can make metaphors this well. Is he a young Baudelaire, a Hart Crane, a Wallace Stevens?
One day a girl says to him, You have interesting eyes. Instantly he shoots back, I don’t find anything at all interesting about you! He’s the same way with the boys, sticking them with barbs like a sullen porcupine.
The boys want to beat him up, the girls to scratch his eyes out. Every day I spend more time protecting him than on my lessons. Yet he has undeniable talent.
He does his book report on a biography of Gandhi, a hero he claims to admire, yet who has little effect on his behavior. I see this as a crowning irony.
Years later, I wonder what happened to him. I haven’t seen his name in poetry publications. Did he graduate from college? Is he working at some highly tolerant place (it would have to be that!)? Has he gone mad like so many poets? Is he already dead?
In this poem I can say truths I couldn’t tell him. Valentino, do you see? The pit was you, the slime, the cesspool full of weirdos. They were all about you, you, you. I hope you’ve realized that and gotten help to clean it up.
John Laue, a former teacher, editor of Transfer, and Associate Editor of San Francisco Review, has six published books of poetry to his credit plus one of prose, The Columns of Joel Mobius, a guide for people with psychiatric diagnoses. Besides editing The Monterey Poetry Review, an on-line journal, and coordinating a long-running reading series for The Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium, he has served as Co-Chair of the Santa Cruz County Mental Health Advisory Board.