“At the beginning of the term” – a poem

Another poem from Gary Margolis, this one about higher education:

At the beginning of the term
     for students and teachers lying down

I used to hand out the syllabus,
its outline of books and assignments,
its expected exams.

Answered the first questions.
How long should a short paper be?
Do we have to use quotes for everything?

Does speaking in class count
toward our final grade?
I went around the room

pronouncing their names,
asking each one to say
a few words of what drew them

to this course, what they hoped
to learn and wanted to take home
at the end of the day. A phrase I said

they couldn’t write, by the way.
We’ve all heard it so often it makes
a cliché of the news, when a summary is

trying to be made. I think of today,
watching again students being interviewed,
saying they heard shots in the next room.

They locked themselves in. Later,
in shock, one said he didn’t know how
he would get his work done, hand in

his due paper. Until he realized
what he was saying for the wounded
and dead. What, I’m afraid,

my college has instructed me to note
first, at the beginning of the term
and now every day. The locks

on the windows and doors.
How a book can be used
to shield our hearts.

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