Friday, January 16, 2009

Why School?

Or, to put it another way, from school, why school?

(A strange word to look at closely, as it turns out: school).

Or, to put it another way, here's a poem by Thomas Lux:


You go to school to learn to
read and add, to someday
make some money. It – money – makes
sense: you need
a better tractor, an addition
to the gameroom, you prefer
to buy your beancurd by the barrel.
There’s no other way to get the goods
you need. Besides, it keeps people busy
working – for it. It’s sensible and, therefore, you go
to school to learn (and the teacher,
having learned, gets paid to teach you) how
to get it. Fine. But:
you’re taught away from poetry
or, say, dancing (That’s nice, dear,
but there’s no dough in it
). No poem
ever bought a hamburger, or not too many. It’s true,
and so, every morning – it’s still dark! –
you see them, the children, like angels
being marched off to execution,
or banks. Their bodies luminous
in headlights. Going to school.

A few things I like here. I like how the - money - in the third line (making sense) implies that the whole proposition set up prior to that assertion (that money makes sense), in fact, is senseless. And that it does it so quietly, so easily.

And I like the sigh of "It's true" (that no poem ever bought more than too many hamburgers) toward the end and how it leads so naturally into "and so." How the children, like angels, going to school are doing so as a result of that truth. It's true. And so. There's a sigh there, I think.

But it's not only a sigh, and I like that, too. Just prior to "It's true," Lux insists that, "No poem ever bought a hamburger, or not too many." He writes, "or not too many." Not "or not a lot, anyway" or anything like that. "Or not too many." And so, even a fungible poem, even a work of art, a poem, as commodity, while it might ultimately be exchanged for food, would always only be exchanged for enough food. Never too much. Never too many hamburgers. Never more than the poet might need.

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