Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Knee-Jiggling Pen-Tappers

Intro to Happiness

They were dressed in distressed denim,
legs crossed and notebooks open.
I wished I didn't have to explain
how difficult the course would be,
but I soldiered through the syllabus
assigning seventy chapters on sighing,
thirty-three articles concerning slings,
forty-nine on arrows,
countless miserable passages
they would be obliged to internalize
to get to, and appreciate, the happy ones.
To a hand raised in the back
I explained why joy – post-pubescent joy –
was reserved for more advanced classes.
To avoid any confusion
I laid out the irrelevance of carnal thrills
and blisses originating in ignorance –
acknowledging the latter represents
the  layperson's misconstruction of happiness.
Next I dwelt conscientiously on how
familiar the lectures would begin to sound,
on the study groups that would dissolve
in tears, lamentation, or dispirited gazing at walls.
I was just getting down to the nuts
and bolts of quizzes on terms
they'd be using the rest of their lives,
plus oral presentations on the three Ds
(depression, despair, and 'ddiction)
that would prepare them for therapy,
when it became necessary for me to pretend
I didn't notice as one by one they slunk
with downcast eyes out the double doors.
I tried not to show how relieved . . .
in truth the word is tickled . . .
no, how absolutely giddy I felt
to be facing only three scattered rows,
then one, then just a few knee-jiggling
pen-tappers, then finally the one student
who probably hadn't heard a word
the whole time, dreaming out the window
or picking at the fabric on her knee,
when at last she glanced up, looked
around, and gathered her things.
"Be seeing you," I said, perhaps too cheerily
since it only hastened her departure;
but I felt so lighthearted
I could scarcely keep my feet on the floor.
I wanted to strip down and dance
around that immovable podium
so dark and so heavy, piled high
with what I could never pass on
without bearing it again, all of it
all over again, myself.

 – J. Allyn Rosser (from the Georgia Review)

I am glad there is no assignment to write a paper about this poem because I have been searching without success for words to account for the happiness supplied by its slyly sliding modulations of voice and attitude. Alert readers will be aware that today is not the first occasion J. Allyn Rosser has appeared on this continuously rolling screen – her earlier poem (from a couple of years ago) is here.

Image source is here