Wednesday, April 6, 2016

In Memorium: Draft of a Poem for a Beloved Professor

When I was in college, I had this global literature professor from Ethiopia whose sole mission in life, if you went by his classroom behavior only, was to try and stir up as much trouble as possible. He would often enter class, calm and stately, traversing the space between door an lectern with even, measured steps. "Hello," he would intone with beautifully-accented English, and then unleash a torrent of debate in the room with a single phrase. The University of Mary Washington, where I went as an undergrad, is still more female than male, but the split during my time was about 60/40. In an English major, that split was even more dramatic. The most memorable of my professor's one-line controversy grenades went like this: "Hello. I believe that female circumcision [here he would pause for dramatic effect, grinning an impossibly wide and mischievous smile] is a good thing." He would never really feel that way, but the discussion we had after the initial explosion taught myself, and my classmates, so much about a practice we were completely unfamiliar with, about the human motivations, insecurities, and rituals that push people to that extreme. The gift of curiosity that arose from his class was nothing short of life-giving to a student who loved finding out everything about everything. He was also the professor that taught me the most about critical thinking; the conversations we had between the lines of my papers forever challenged me to be the best version of myself that I can. This draft poem is to my professor for the gifts he gave me.

"A Death Remembered"
Untimely deaths always bring
Me back to that awkward day.
In your house
Alone, but not truly alone.
Your students' papers, stacked
Nearby, called to you.
They asked for an insight,
A touch of your genius,
But you could no longer
Make them whole.

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