Saturday, May 31, 2014

Teaching Gatsby by Conrad Tuerk

As a veteran high school English teacher, I consider my poem Teaching Gatsby one of many “field notes” I have gathered over the years.

    Teaching Gatsby

My dog team I call them.
They come in after lunch
strung out on sugar or
stoned to the bejesus.

Either way they nip at
my heels oblivious
to the primacy I
asserted yesterday
and the day before
and last week
when a full moon riled them
up and put me on edge.  

A coin has no memory,
my friend from the math
department likes to quip,
each toss carries fresh odds,
fifty-fifty, heads or tails. 

They ooze testosterone
these hulking, adolescent boys:
wrestling in corners, belching,
posing for the demure
brunette, the pretty one, who
tries her best to ignore them.

Sit down, I instruct,
and pull up your pants.

Then I guide them
to page 189
and prod them toward a
connection between the
green light at the end of
Daisy’s dock and the fresh,
green breast of the new world.

Our discussion sputters
Until I bring up Gatsby’s
pink suit.  So he’s a flaming 
faggot one of them blurts out
to great laughter.

I wince and once again
bare my canines –
but too late.  The boy
in front, with the lisp and
deep blue eyes, slumps forward
jaw clenched.

You poor kid
I think to myself.

But later, when I see him bopping
down the street to his ipod,
I sense hope.  He might gain
the most from my class,
not by heeding me
or the great books or
Whitman’s soulful song
but by having to endure
the dog team, its brute strength
and ruthless indifference:
to weakness, to wonder,
to autumn nights, white with moonlight…

As always Gatsby’s death makes perfect sense.

Conrad Tuerk is a teacher and writer living in Rutland, Vermont.

Photo Credit: Pinterest


Sue Coletta said...

I really enjoyed this, Conrad. Thanks for sharing.

Conrad Tuerk Jr. said...

Thank you, Sue. Beware the dog team...

Anonymous said...

So glad you posted this one - looking forward to your next ones!