“I’ve written a poem,” the student told me. I didn’t much like him and tried not to show it. In fact, I thought I sometimes leaned in the opposite direction, being too patronizing or supportive or whatever to compensate for my aversion. He was unctuous, probably praised all his eighteen or twenty years of life for being a good boy.
I smiled. “That’s great,” I said. I mean, I was encouraging, right? I was sitting in my office, the space I call “my office,” although it’s also the space of two other instructors’ offices. I have a table-sort of desk, not a big official one like those of my office mates. I’m only part-time.
The student – I’ll call him Jerry—stood in the doorway. He was not unattractive. Maybe 5’10”, dark-haired, dressed the way they all dressed—some outrageous group logo or team on a tee shirt. “Do you want to hear it?”
There was no reason I couldn’t “hear” it. My office was empty except for me. Even the instructors in adjacent offices were not around. We were separated only by some sort of half wall that defined spaces without containing voices or sounds. But did Jerry ask, Are you busy? Or Is this a good time? No. “Sure,” I said. “Do you want to stand or sit?” I indicated a chair near the door.
He reached in the back pocket of jeans and pulled out a folded paper. “I’ll stand.”
Again,I smiled. Instructors encourage students, right?
“It’s called ‘Your Memory Inside Me,’” he said. His title satisfied him, I could tell.
I have a friend who has a gesture of sticking her finger in her throat to show how repelled she is by something. I felt like putting my finger in my throat. “Good title.”
He read his poem. It was four stanzas of verse, not a poem. It was about a dog he had owned when he was six or seven, a dog named—of course! – Rex. Each stanza ended with the line “your memory is inside me.”
I told him it was emotion-evoking. He looked pleased. I asked him if he needed the “is” in the last line of each stanza. Maybe he could rearrange the other words so that the phrase became a theme and not a statement.
He looked confused, stared at his poem, and then got angry. “I thought you’d like it,” he said. “I worked on it. My mother liked it.”
I nodded. Of course. “I do like it,” I said. (Encourage, encourage!) “I was just—I thought—helping you make it—well, tighter.”
“You didn’t know Rex,” he said.
I admitted, no, I did not. “Probably others who read the poem will not have known Rex either and we want them to feel the loss of Rex, too, right?” Jesus. I couldn’t believe I’d said those words.
He nodded, solemnly.
“If you want that last line, then maybe the whole poem should be addressed to Rex, as though you’re talking to him.”
Again, he nodded.
I heard my colleague, Stan, enter the office next door and thought I’d like to wrap up this conversation before it was overheard.
“It’s great,” I said. “Even as it is, though. And your mother’s right. Good job.”