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The Essay

I have asked my students once again to write on a theme.
The subject is not the end of the summer,
Though summer has once again ended and they are here.
The subject is not even the throes of adolescence,

Or the Shakespearean sonnet's use of the couplet.
No, theirs is such a dark and rich theme that their essays
Will look at first like Kafka's diariesówith self-portraits,
Wraiths or ominous clocks lodged in the margins.

I want each to follow the footsteps of the psychopomp
And find the Gates of Horn that so many have stood before.
Should they be frightened, the pure ether may calm them,
Moving over their hot foreheads with a mother's palm.

I watch them now bend low to their work, smudging ink,
Capitalizing proper nouns, stopping only to hurry forward,
Their nibs heavy oars, their scribbling an awkward rowing.
The dread of conclusions scrunches their shoulders.

One girl wearing her hair up for the very first time
Raises her hand and, at my nod, walks up to my desk.
She has finished first. Her paragraphs have the weight
Of Etruscan tombs, and her face is that same shade of rose

That glimmers in the background of Pompeian frescoes.
I accept that her script is cuneiform and that a grave puzzle
Awaits my midnight's musing. For hers is the lost language
Of the young, a smooth stone I weigh in my palm, and let go.

Brian Culhane

Parnassus: Poetry in Review

Volume 33, Number 1 & Number 2

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