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Poems

Mangham

Somewhere between bells the right angles staggered
And Mangham poised, sensing thunder,
Something crookèd in the straight lines of his brain.
Chalk dust rose upward. The blackboard altered
Its screech, and the teeth of the children were set
On edge.

Above our doped heads the ceiling whitened
As the part in Mr. Mangham’s hair
Lost its way; a gray lock fell;
Behind him as he turned, taw
Of Cosines. He pressed the middle of his brow
With a handkerchief, looking at all of us
As he stepped

Quickly out of the room. In the center
Of the high school a sound arose from us,
A hive sound, amazing, increasing. I tore up my note
To Serena Hill, and leaned and spoke
Boldly to her in person. At the threshold
Mr. Mangham appeared with a handkerchief
Full of lumps

He had raided the lunchroom icebox, and held
A knotted cloth full of soupy cubes
Dripping down his gray face: held it
Left-handed, lifted his good
Right arm. The signs appeared again,
The blackboard filled
With crazy proofs,

Lines wavering on the powdery blackness,
The dark night of the adolescent mind,
Conceiving drunken constellations,
Equilateral triangles, others of thirty-
sixty, ninety degrees, traced by a seismograph,
All figures melting from the ice-
colors of his chalk.

It should be in a tent in the desert
That I remember Mangham’s last day
In that class, for his cracked voice was speaking
Of perfection, sphere-music,
Through the stroke that blazed in his mind
As our hive toned down
And Pythagoras howled

For mor ice: it should be in contemplative sand
Or in a corner that I ought to sit
On a high stool, Mangham’s age now,
On my head a conical hat, a dunce cap
Covered with moons and stars and jagged bands
Of brain-lightning, the ceiling above me
White with the chalk motes

Of stars from my shoulders, the night blazoned
With the angles of galaxies forming
To a silent music’s accords,
Proving once and for all that I have no head
For figures, but knowing that that did not stop
Mangham for one freezing minute
Of his death

From explaining for my own good, from the good
Side of his face, while the other
Mixed unfelt sweat and ice water, what I never
Could get to save my soul: those things that, once
Established, cannot be changed by angels,
Devils, lightning, ice or indifference:
Identities! Identities!


From Buckdancer’s Choice (1965)