Teaching Shakespeare to 10th Graders
After Brutus and the conspirators leave,
Marc Antony crouches low to Caesar’s lifeless body,
And lays his hand on his friend’s lacerated corpse.
“Oh pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,”
Weeps he, start I, softly.
“That I am meek and gentle with these butchers,”
Remorses he, whisper I,
To my class of 23 tenth graders.
Line by line, I expound Marc Antony’s polemic
Employing every known theatrical illusion.
I dig into a low guttural as Marc Antony
Curses the limbs of men and promises
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife,
And by the time Ate comes, hot from hell,
I rise to a pulsing crescendo, spittle flies, my fists clench,
My breath gasps as I spew “Havoc!”
And with annunciating teeth and tongue and lips
I let slip the dogs of war until
My 23 tenth graders can smell the flesh of carrion men
Groaning for burial.
And then – silence.
I take two steps back to allow the Bard’s ghost
To rise and hang menacingly in transparent smoke,
Before slipping out under the classroom door
In a wift of tight air.
The tenth graders know not what to say.
They are raw, in awe, and adolescently flawed.
Incapable of response; like Caesar: stuck dumb.
They exhale, emphatically.
Whole-eyed, they steal glances at one another to confirm
That they all did indeed momentarily
Ingratiate the unadulterated fury
That brings mankind to its own brilliant self-destruction.
Teaching Shakespeare to tenth graders
Lies in the vast impregnable silence
The bell rings.
They phlat and schzip and shuttle their belongings,
Scuffle out the door, smiling smugly in conspiracy.
I am left alone in an empty classroom
With Caesar’s impotent body at my feet.
I crouch low to gently lay my hand on
His bloody mantle, soaked in centuries of irresponsiveness.
And I, too, mourn the fall of greatness,
Having done nothing.