“Richard Noel”

Listen to Harry Thomas read this poem.

He said he’d be absent a week,
**and when I asked him why,
he looked away from me.
**A small boy, and very shy,

he never spoke in class,
**except to tell us about,
say, bees or the Burgess Shale.
**I couldn’t figure him out.

Two or three minutes passed—
**as much as I could stand.
Then: “There’s a tumor on
**my pituitary gland.”

He hadn’t slept well in years;
**watched scientific shows.
The doctor to remove it
**would enter up his nose …

To finish the long profile
**his grade depended on,
the afternoon before
**the surgery, alone,

he worked late in the library.
**I saw him typing away.
On my desk were his ten pages
**the first thing the next day.

Over the years I, too,
**have had hard things to face.
But when did I once summon
**such fortitude and grace?