“The History Teacher,” by Billy Collins

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his noted and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

by Billy Collins

“Nailed,” by Meena Kandasamy

I’ve been getting ready for the Educators for Teaching India conference tomorrow, and I continue to be in awe of the power of Meena Kandasamy’s poetry. She is a contemporary poet-activist (b. 1984) who writes about feminism and caste annihilation (among many other things). Here is one of her many remarkable poems.

Nailed

Men are afraid of any woman who makes poetry and dangerous
portents. Unable to predict when, for what, and for whom she
will open her mouth, unable to stitch up her lips, they silence her.

Her pet parrot developed an atrocious fetish for the flesh of
sacrificial goats, so Kulamaayi was bolted within a box and
dropped in the Kaveri.

She teased and tormented his celibacy, so Miss Success-Village
was thrown into a well by a wandering socialite-godman.

She was inaccessible and unattainable, so Durga was put in an iron
trunk that settled on a riverbed and even the men and women
who tried to approach her were informed in a prerecorded voice
that she was out of reach and network range and coverage area.

She was an outcaste who had all the marks of a fiery orator who
would someday run for parliament, so a nail was driven into her head
on the instructions of her brahmin fiancée and her coffin was
set adrift in a wailing river.

She was black and bloodthirsty, so even Kali found herself shut
inside her shrine.

They were relatively low-risk, so most other women were locked up
at home.