Poem for Christian, My Student

By Gail Mazur b. 1937 Gail Mazur
He reminds me of someone I used to know,   
but who? Before class,
he comes to my office to shmooze,
a thousand thousand pointless interesting   
speculations. Irrepressible boy,
his assignments are rarely completed,   
or actually started. This week, instead
of research in the stacks, he’s performing
with a reggae band that didn’t exist last week.   
Kids danced to his music
and stripped, he tells me gleefully,
high spirit of the street festival.
He’s the singer, of course—
why ask if he studied an instrument?   
On the brink of graduating with
an engineering degree (not, it turned out,   
his forte), he switched to English,
his second language. It’s hard to swallow   
the bravura of his academic escapes
or tell if the dark eyes laugh with his face.   
Once, he brought me a tiny persimmon   
he’d picked on campus; once, a poem   
about an elderly friend in New Delhi   
who left him volumes of Tagore
and memories of avuncular conversation.   
My encouragement makes him skittish—
it doesn’t suit his jubilant histrionics   
of despair. And I remember myself   
shrinking from enthusiasm or praise,   
the prospect of effort-drudgery.   
Success—a threat. A future, we figure,   
of revision—yet what can the future be
but revision and repair? Now, on the brink   
again, graduation’s postponed, the brilliant   
thesis on Walker Percy unwritten.   
“I’ll drive to New Orleans and soak   
it up and write my paper in a weekend,”   
he announces in the Honors office.   
And, “I want to be a bum in daytime   
and a reggae star at night!”
What could I give him from my life   
or art that matters, how share
the desperate slumber of my early years,   
the flashes of inspiration and passion   
in a life on hold? If I didn’t fool   
myself or anyone, no one could touch   
me, or tell me much . . . This gloomy   
Houston Monday, he appears at my door,   
so sunny I wouldn’t dare to wake him   
now, or say it matters if he wakes at all.   
“Write a poem about me!” he commands,   
and so I do.

Gail Mazur, “Poem for Christian, My Student” from Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Copyright © 1995 by Gail Mazur. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Common (The University of Chicago Press, 1995)

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Poet Gail Mazur b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Midlife, Living, Disappointment & Failure, School & Learning, Coming of Age, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Gail  Mazur


After nearly 13 years of apprenticing herself to poetry, during which she studied with Robert Lowell and immersed herself in the Boston/Cambridge literary scene, Mazur published her first collection, Nightfire (1978), at age 40. Other books include The Pose of Happiness (1986); They Can’t Take That Away from Me (2001); and Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems (2006). Tess Taylor, interviewing Mazur for the Atlantic Monthly . . .

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SUBJECT Midlife, Living, Disappointment & Failure, School & Learning, Coming of Age, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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