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What are we? Humans? Animals? Savages?
William Golding – Lord of the Flies
On the first day of my first class in a tiny room,Chuck takes a seat so close he taps my desk.Every day a Polo, dress pants, buttery loafers.When he looks up, he flashes perfect teeth. Hestares, makes me squirm, but does his work. He’s 18. I’m 21. He doesn’t treat me as his teacher
ready to discuss Lord of the Flies. Behind his silkyvoice and Gucci shoes, I see his mean. He instigatesfights and whacks small boys, particularly Juan—thick horned-rims, buck teeth, chunky—Piggy if hestepped from the book, and he likes order, logic.He asks questions, ponders why Jack craves the kill.The day after spring break, Juan asks for a restroom pass. A minute later, Chuck dips his face close to mine and asksto call his mother to bring his lab notes for 4th hour.You probably wonder how I fell for that. I let him go.I heard the story after an ambulance took Juan away. Chuck slammed the bathroom door into Juan’s face overand over until his glasses fell off his broken noseand cheekbone. Then he plunged Juan’s headinto the toilet. By the time the gurney arrived, Juanwas unconscious. Chuck earned his last creditson Homebound. Juan’s parents moved to Texas. A door had opened into a new darkness. Studentsbumped along as that year loomed shadowyunder the care of counselors. A quiet springof staring into space. A time of weighing. Rumors traveled like vapor, like stories of the beast. We lived in the flicker, the tick. Too many staineddreams. Too many thoughts about sharpening a stick.
Copyright 2022 Maryfrances Wagner.
Maryfrances Wagner is the Poet Laureate of Missouri. Her books include The Silence of Red Glass (Bob Woodley Memorial Press, 2018) and The Immigrants’ New Camera (Spartan, 2018).
Still from the 1990 Columbia film Lord of the Flies. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy
“Rumors traveled like vapor, like stories of the beast.
We lived in the flicker, the tick.” Oh!
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I taught, classroom tiny replica of the world. I have worked in a office, not so different-maybe more subtle, not less vicious. Sometimes I despair at the brutality of the world. I carry a spider outside. I watch the pest control guy spray my neighbor’s yard. I see movies and newscasts of shooting. I send s couple bucks for starving children. I hate and love my species. Beautiful wolves released back into the wild only to be killed by hunters. Coral reefs die. Rich people sightsee in space. Children die when all could eat for the price of one space ticket. I cannot understand. I am not wise, but why’s die on my stroke numbed lips
Lovely post, Barbara. Thank you.
Oh, how I hated Lord of the Flies at school. That, and A Separate Piece by John Knowles. Now, I can see why readers may want to explore questions of basic human nature through the lens of the coming of age story. The two novels explore coming of age disasters about school boys doing stupid stuff boys do. They take testosterone fueled impulses to extremes and deal with an intensity of “boy” emotion I could not empathize with when I was a teenage girl. I disliked these two books so much I still feel nauseous just remembering them, but I begin to see some logic to getting school kids to read them, while so much emotion swirls around inside them–show them how wrong it could go, so they don’t have to act on their stupid impulses to find out what will happen.
This poem does a brilliant job of drawing the reader into the big personality Chuck exudes with his buttery shoes, his too-intense stare, at the start, and in a few short lines, the poet recreates Lord of the Flies in a violent, modern-day incident between school boys, asking the question once again: Are we born with some inherent “nature” that makes us passive or aggressive? Can we control it?
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Kim, this is a lovely review of the poem, capturing the contradictory emotions we feel as we read the poem and think of the novel.
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