The Future of the World, Part 2: Youth

by Steve Straight

On the way in from the parking lot
I see a student with a big Bruins shirt over shorts
on a cold day in March, headphones, backpack
slung over one shoulder, gangling toward class.
Almost past a trash can whose plastic lid
with swinging door has blown off in the stiff wind,
to my astonishment he stops, and then replaces it,
fitting the lid securely all around the circumference.

As I approach the main entrance I hang back
and study the behavior of the students:
six in a row hold the door for the next person,
who lets it close behind her just as another
gets to it; he holds it for the next, who then
totally ignores the heavy set woman
carrying two bags, a pocketbook, and holding
the hand of a toddler. I race for the door,
she thanks me heartily, and I hold it
for the next student, who says nothing.

Like the binary foretelling of daisy petals
in my youth, I think:

There is hope. There is no hope.
There is hope. There is no hope.

Intro to Lit, opening day prompt:
“Talk about yourself and reading,
perhaps a favorite book.”
Three of twenty-five begin,
the ones who’ve brought books
they’re reading: a Stephen King,
a sci-fi series I don’t know,
and one––god bless him––
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Then about six in, a young man, with tie,
admits, “I don’t really like to read.”
As if a giant permission switch were flipped,
hands shoot up around the room.
“Yeah, I hate reading.” “Oh, me too.”
Too many nods to count.

There is hope. There is no hope.
There is hope. There is no hope.

After a morning when I discover most of my students
don’t know how many senators New York has,
can’t tell me one thing about Gandhi, cannot name
the date of the Declaration of Independence––
“1876?” “1920s?” and one belligerent shrug,
between classes I see a young woman
swinging her red-tipped cane down the hall
approach a giant clot of young students
she may not sense how dense, lost in their cells
or shouting random things to each other––
but all at once they part and give her a wide berth.
All eyes follow her down the hall
and I hear someone say, hushed:
“She’s memorized the school, man.”

These days, pianissimo, under my breath,
I can’t stop counting my rosary:
There is hope. There is no hope.
There is hope. There is no hope.
There is hope. . . .

 

lores_SteveStraight_color.jpgA teacher for thirty-nine years, Steve Straight is a professor of English and director of the poetry program at Manchester Community College.  His most recent book is The Almanac (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press).  His previous collection of poetry, The Water Carrier (Curbstone), was featured on the nationally syndicated radio program “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.” He has given workshops on writing and teaching throughout the eastern United States and in Ireland.

Author: darinljensen

I am a writer and a teacher who is interested in issues of class and social justice.

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