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Miss Bishop Has Left the Building


Everything’s arranged. I have the map,
I have the key. “Here’s Florida,” I say.
“There’s Brazil.” “Boring,” they tell me.

My anecdotes soon spin out of control:
A closet lesbian, isn’t that interesting?
A drunk? Mad mother? Bad childhood?

Sad to say, the ol’ possum didn’t
Commit suicide. Too reserved, a lady.
“Listen to the tone,” I say. “The irony.”

They don’t listen. They don’t like irony.
They’re into feeling. They go for blood,
Drugs, and semen. They like Bukowski.

“Don’t you know how much work it takes
To create such beautifully contained worlds,
To seed the heavens and hang hammocks,

The sunsets warm, if foreign, the moon
Smiling behind manners at tanagers
And pelicans and self-importance?”

I say, shaking out the small, striped flags,
The brightly colored, irrelevant currency.
“No work should go into writing poetry,”

They say. They are a mob, a democracy.
My expertise is elitist and imaginary.
Oh, why must they have their own taste

When I am willing to give them mine?
“She may not be your cup of tea now,”
I say. “Maybe someday she will be.”

Suddenly, I have become their mother,
And the lovely Miss Bishop lima beans.
I don’t know if I can still teach, but I am

Not ready to pack it in just yet, so I put
Students into groups to analyze “motifs.”
At last, they seem animated and happy.

Or are they laughing at the class? At me?
They’re awfully cheerful for three o’clock,
But when I come close to their huddles,

They lapse into silence, gaping at the pages.
I fold up my notes, foregoing my exegesis
Of her pink goat and moose in moonlight.

Swallowing a single, subterranean tear,
I’m thinking, TGIF, baby, but I say,
“You know what old E.B. would say?

Let’s end class early and get a drink.”
They slap down their books. Hurray!
They like her a little better already.


from The Afflicted Girls