Teaching Paradise Lost

At the window, the late April snow turned miserably
to rain. The schoolroom after a year was still
unrecognizably mine, the gray walls generically
mute, the shelves still nude; a few photographs,
gifts from students, on the cork boards curled
like little vivisections from their pins. In the corner
the heater coughed; from above, the clock’s
geared hands locked another minute shut.
And in my arms—blond, untouchable, athletic, young—
the boy stood heaving his tears.
He was in love, as I was. Through my shirt
I felt the heat of his tears stain
the skin of my chest. There was a girl he loved
without knowing he loved; by some reflexive
self-preserving spasm of cruelty he forced her
humiliatingly away; and then he felt,
rising through relief at the exorcised glimpse
of adult human feeling intricate and pained,
remorse so sharp it swept away
congenital reticence, embarrassment, shame,
and set him in my arms. I had nothing to say.
I stood there, feeling his hands grip
locked behind my back, feeling him breathe,
and felt I held the birth of personhood,
that having delivered and received (delivery
is receipt) the wound of feeling, he stood
severed from the life of needlessness,
the green oblivial wholeness of his childhood—
and, the terrible wings unfurling at its gates,
irremediably alien, he entered the world of parts.

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