Work Week at the Prep School

Listen  to Bruce Smith read this poem.

Every third kid I taught at prep school
was Holden Caulfield, the other two
had such dysfunction concealed
by eloquence (learned from suppers
with au pairs or mothers who minored
in theater) that they seemed happy
in the great unhappy way
school makes everybody. This Holden
was feral beneath every sweater
sent him in the mail and arrogant
on Monday Tuesday, humble Wednesday
Thursday, then cocked beyond my powers
to hinder him, in a nice way, and so
compulsively anti-authoritarian
he’d turn on himself for answering
when he could have continued reeking
in his articulate silence, and scratch
and scowl. I wanted to let him off
the hook that held him like a side of beef
and so return him to the mantle
where he was a photograph in silver
of a figure to behold
in cardboard armor and a foil crown.
I wanted him to let me off
for my opinions said with the force
of convictions, then graded as they reappeared
in essays on Emerson. And for his intuited
understanding of my trying too hard—
the servant’s groveling and the pal’s
compassion from a distance, please
may breaks be given. I earned
my patronized living. He earned a B
minus, really a C, inflated
so he would have around him the space
of accomplishment he hated,
inflated so I would not have to
face what it was, in a nice way, I did.

                                               for Dev Milburn