For My Students

By Robert Barham

May 1, 2023

For My Students

From Alabama, Tennessee, and Michigan, China, Austria, and Indonesia, they see the world’s grandeur and glory, menace and ruin. They are Nabokovs, Morrisons, O’Connors, Didions. They want answers, want to know what matters, would rather be somewhere else. They wear masks, stare at me in silence, say everything tastes different after COVID, especially oranges. They lose friends, grandparents, parents. They break down, break open. They come to class, say they didn’t want to fall behind, didn’t know what else to do. They say Juliet was maligned; the Iliad feels real, feels like Afghanistan; the writer took tragedy and made it beautiful; this is what grief is like. They ask me how I met my wife, what it’s like to have kids. They stay after class and ask is this true, is this how the world is. They ask, can I talk to you; how am I doing; what’s the point; why am I here. They say they want to belong somewhere; don’t know who they’re supposed to be; feel like two opposing magnets, like their blood and brains are at odds. When class ends they say I wish I had talked more; wish you had talked more; this stuff is the bee’s knees, ant’s pants, cat’s pajamas; would rather have watched paint dry; didn’t like it but know you tried; appreciate that you listened. They say thanks.

Image by Rawf8 courtesy of AdobeStock

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