Test Day in Senior High

On any Work Day, they do not work.
They chatter and hum. They doodle,
on paper, in air, to each other’s ears.
They do not work. They get work done.

Today is Test Day, and they work.
They have listened to Instructions.
They will compose Commentaries.
No fragment sentences will they.*

They, whose Instructions even refer
to “the” Vade Mecum, have enlisted
the holy ghost of Trivium, Parts I, II
and III: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

They analyze. A poem. “Behavior
of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden,”
by Keith Douglass in Poetry
of the Forties, ed. Robert Skelton
(1968). Eminently footnotable.

I could tell them, should I be allowed
by the rigorous strictures of Vade Mecum,
Section G, how many points may be accrued
by a careful consideration of the Tea
Garden in light of Prufrock’s room
where those women come and go,
the 20th C. tradition of Prufrockian ennui.

Then they’d work, all right, white lipped.
And in working become the next minor
academic ruination of ruined but pressed
Prufrock, of this scarlet lipped Egyptian siren
dirge, and of the collective celebratory poem
that is in them. I keep my politic silence.

* The gramatically sophisticated student will note that this is not actually a fragment sentence. It is intentionally ambiguous.

Richard Fenton Sederstrom was raised and lives in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and the North Woods of Minnesota. Sederstrom is the author of eight books of poetry, his latest book, The Dun Book, published by Jackpine Writers' Bloc, was released last fall. Read other articles by Richard Fenton.