First Day of Class in British Literature

by Gary Leising

I ask my wife how my hair looks and she says,
“Good enough, but why aren’t you worried about the lecture?”
Because it’s only John Donne and these kids
won’t get him so I can say whatever I want.
So she asks why I’m not starting with Chaucer
and the answer’s because it’s the first day and
they won’t have read Chaucer, so I’ll wait on him
until the eighth day. “They won’t have read
Chaucer then, either,” she says. True, because I hadn’t
read him until my eighth year of grad school

 

and most people probably don’t read him anyway,
but, still, when you get to his grave at Westminster Abbey,
there’s someone lingering too long, like they knew him.
How many centuries has he been dead? When I saw it,
I thought how small it was. Either (a) he was short,
(b) he was put in there with his legs folded at the knees
and his head crammed sideways like he’s thinking
about the solution to a math problem, or (c)
he died from exsanguination when his legs were hacked off
below the knee. It’s multiple choice, so the answer
could be two of these. Lingerers are okay—

 

maybe they’re recalling how Chaucer wrote,
“April showers / bring May flowers,” how, in fact,
he invented both April and showers. What
gets me are the weeping ones. I took some students
there and one wept at Chaucer’s grave.
Here’s an odd coincidence: she hadn’t seen Chaucer
in about as long as she hadn’t seen her father,
who worked security at JFK airport, which we
were flying through to get home. She planned to meet him
at passport control. He saw a group of college kids

 

and went to every girl saying, “Brenda? Brenda?”
but she was at the end of this group and only saw
a security guy talking to her friends. He could have
been asking them “Drug mule? Drug mule?” for all she knew,
so she didn’t run up and say “Dad?” While we
were waiting at customs, she talked to him.
She didn’t mention Chaucer’s grave. She didn’t weep.

 

Gary Leising’s poems have been published in The Cincinnati Review, The Connecticut Review, and Buzzard Picnic. He also won Indiana Review’s 2008 1/2K prize for prose poems and short-short stories. Currently, he is an associate professor teaching creative writing and English at Utica College.

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