170: Dantalion

170: Dantalion

by Jeffrey Thomson

      The fourth angel is a man with many likenesses, which
      means the faces of all men and women. He teaches the arts and sciences
      and holds a book in one hand.

I wanted to talk about poetry today,
but there are 33 dead in Virginia. 
Today someone is teaching a group
of children to hide in the closet. Someone
is passing out bulletproof blankets. I teach
all the arts and sciences but there are 33
dead in Virginia. I measured the sky.
I traced the way Virgil worms his way
into the modern epic. I talked this morning
about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon,
the way he paused and made camp
and how his soldiers stamped their feet
in the dark trying to keep warm.
I speak Latin. I speak French. I speak
Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.
I understand what it means when I talk
about quantum entanglement
and the flavors of quarks. I know quark
comes from Joyce (Three quarks for
Muster Mark!) and that Finnegans Wake
proceeds without a possessive. I know
the rules for the possessive and find
myself secretly hating those who don’t.
I failed to sleep last night because I was
writing, “Provide proof for your argument” 
on one hundred papers. I was a small child
and shy. I rarely spoke. I lived in books
and paintings and saw the world reduced
today to the mouth at the end of a gun.
I was shot holding the door against a boy
so my students could drop from windows.
I was shot as I looked up from
my lecture. I was shot as I requested
my life. I walked with my eyes down,
beneath a sky measurably smaller.
I wanted to talk about poetry today.

“Dantalion" by Jeffrey Thomson. Copyright © 2019, from the forthcoming HALF/LIFE by Jeffrey Thomson. Used by permission of Alice James Books.