Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Headmaster's Song by Robert Demaree

1. The Pluperfect Tense

Old New England school men come to Texas,
Dressing for dinner like Brits in India:
We wondered why Tom Perdue had called his wife
The pluperfect tense.
A Latinist, too, he cared about things
People don’t think of these days:
Pronouns agreeing with antecedents,
The voice and mood of verbs but not of persons,
The way sand blows over footprints.
She had smiled sadly, as I recall.
Rereading Vergil,
It came to me:
The completed act, prior to past time,
A sense of finality apprehended,
The tears of human ways:
Sunt lacrimae rerum.

2. Harold

He worked for the firm
That cleans our building.
The night he died
We walked the school together.
With amiable displeasure
I had shown him things,
Unstripped wax,
Unwiped blinds and louvers,
And we lamented
(Him an old school man, too)
How kids are these days,
Trouble getting good help.
Someone else must make some sense
Of the notes he took that night.
The company doesn’t know
Who they’ll send us now.
See, there on top of the lockers,
In the dust caught in the afternoon’s late light,
Furrows plowed by the
Fingers of a hand which
Must have been his.

3. Approaching Retirement

Where he works
Pewter cups have replaced the gold watch.
The head thinks they’re nice,
But people smirk and roll their eyes,
Which he used to think unfair
Until recently.
I may decline the cup, he thinks.
The years are mine:
I will not risk entrusting them
To summary or tribute.
I will slip out, like the old baseball man,
In the bottom of the fifth,
In a game that doesn’t matter,
One man out,
No one on.

4. Head of School

He knew all the students,
Would call them by name,
Walking across the quad
Between ivied classes,
Tried to say to each
Something cheerful, personal:
Good game last night, Phil,
Or: Liked your op-ed piece.
He went to their concerts,
Their debates and swimming meets.
He thought they liked him.
It came to him later,
When he was working somewhere else,
That his best love
Had gone into the spam folders
Of their adolescent hearts.

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders, published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.

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