He’s trying to tell his seventh period class
About the fourth century A.D. and
Who St. Augustine was
And Jeannie Holzapple who’s reading
A Soap Opera Digest snugged inside her textbook
(He confiscates one every now and then to keep
Her alert) looks up at the clock and on the way
Back to her ‘zine gazes as if she were staring
At the ground from an airplane window
At twenty thousand feet:
“What is that?” her eyes say, “What is that?”
After seventeen years of World History, Mr. Pfeiffer
Knows indifference. He’s been there and if
Most of his compadres have retreated
Into the chirpy glitter of videocation
He still likes to slug it out in real time
Even if it’s mud most days,
Sheer bored and bruised adolescent gumbo.
So he asks if anyone’s wished someone else
Had dropped dead in the past week,
And Tony Campbell has his hand up fast
And says, “Yeah you!” before Pfeiffer can even call
His name and everyone laughs because if he were gone
Maybe seventh period would disappear too.
After a certain number of furtive looks, more hands
Go up until most of the class has them up –
Some defiant, some abashed, some grim and
He tells them they’re all depraved and
St. Augustine knew they were depraved and that’s
Why all high schools have assistant principals
Because of the ungovernable wickedness in everyone.
St. Augustine had their number.
But I’m not bad,” says Shelley Grossman
Who didn’t raise her hand, and everyone looks at her
And he sees some strong smirks appear on some faces.
“Now who’s a Donatist and who’s Augustinian?” he asks
While moving toward the blackboard and then he’s singing,
“You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good,”
As he begins writing words and drawing arrows
Which brings Jeanie out of her Digest
Because his voice is atrocious
And twenty-three minutes go by in contorted, excited
Conversation about the nature of people and God.
Then, when the bell rings and they all let go of their
Imagining. Pfeiffer goes over to the window and breathes
Deeply. The bad air feels good, the silence has wings.