A Lesson From My Founding Fathers

I stiffly sit back in my creaking wooden school chair
my blank-faced response to the professor’s inquiry
now burning into a lovely scarlet
the rosy color perhaps forming
into the letter D
for Dunce

a deserved stamp of shame
for one so ignorant as I
one who did not know a few moments ago—
before my temporarily tattooed face revealed
so involuntarily
my soul’s own submission to shame
at such personal ignorance—
something about some president crossing a river
and saving a war or something like that

My classmates knew the answer
as though they already knew the professor
was about to ask the question—how?
We’re in the same graduating year, and even
studied several of the same classes together.

Am I stupid? A bad student? Lazy? All three?
Having lived with myself for twenty four years
one would think I should know that answer,
but it appears I am ignorant in more ways than one.

I can imagine that same president—
whoever he is and however he looks—
and the rest of the Founding Fathers
standing in this musky classroom
looming around my little desk
and my belittled form
dressed in their cotton pantaloons
heeled, hand-cobbled shoes
puffed chests lined with laced collars
pockets swallowing chains of gold watches
white hair, or perhaps freshly-powdered wig,
ribboned tightly against the base of the neck
which grows out of the back so postured to fit
the expectation of those deigning to stand in
such positions of ghostly historical stature
one hand perhaps in a pocket
and the other clasping a lapel—

all looking down at me, perplexed—
not so much at my ignorance
of this subject matter or even of their faces,
which offer no small comfort to me
and this endless moment
of shame and vulnerability—
but at the dishonor I have shown
in naming myself a student
and citizen of this country,
an heir of the blood, sweat and tears they shed
to give me such an opportunity as
sitting in this room and learning

their pallid faces display questioning glares,
how could I claim any knowledge
similar to that which they posses?
such dishonor should fall upon me
and my likely-to-be-uneducateable descendents
the presence of their ghosts
an innate trial against me
their silence my academic eulogy
the presence of their ghosts
reminding the living that I—
who deigns call myself an American—
will never know life
will never know liberty
will never know happiness

 

more by A. M. LAINE

Photograph by Rocksana Rocksana

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