This poem appears in the Winter–Fall 2012 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.
The snowflakes on the oaks have stayed the same
Through all the changing winters of the years
As every boy’s bright face has since I came
To make pressed lips articulate with tears.
The scrums, the prep-times, first loves, chapel prayers,
The Founders’ Days, the war dead etched on brass,
Tired prefects calling “Lights out!” from the stairs —
These were the holy texts in memory’s mass.
And though I bore the headship and its stress —
Hirings, firings, urging Old Boys to give
And give again, yet doing more with less,
My life a death through which a school might live —
This classroom was my own, oak-paneled, small,
Unfitted with those terminals and screens
New colleagues use so loudly down the hall,
Their blackboards not on walls but in machines.
And here each year a dwindling remnant read
That first and greatest tale of rage and lust,
Dreaming of Helen’s breasts and Hector dead,
Troy’s battlements collapsed in burning dust.
Yet now at last I leave a room for good
Where ghosts still whisper Greek attentively
While twilight blooms through panes in Gothic wood
And snow in oaks falls silent over me.