Virtue (draft 2)

virtue used to be the force
that drove the green fuse through the flower
used to pulse with its own power

used to drive the edge of the knife
through the waiting flesh

faded to smooth brows and veiled heads
drained its juice and power to become

empty pulp and obedience
pap for the baby boy
smack of a ruler in a nun’s hands

Virtue

virtue
used to be the force
that drove the green fuse
through the flower

used to drive the edge
of the knife
through the waiting flesh

dried to calm brows
and veiled heads
virtue’s juice
drained out of it

empty pulp
pap for the baby boy
smack of a ruler
in a nun’s hands

Chaucer’s Virtue, Dr. White’s Bathwater

“of switch vertu engender’d is the fleur” is one of the opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Even though I haven’t read Chaucer in years, I hold his work — and the Canterbury Tales in particular — very close to my heart, in part because it was probably some of the first college-level literature I ever read. In high school, AP English was famous for a few reasons. For an aspiring writer like me, it
represented the apex of academic achievement in high school. But it was also notorious because of the woman who taught it: Dr. White. No one got to be head of my high school’s English department without earning a PhD, and the head of the English Department was usually the only Doctor in the building. Dr. White was a towering inferno of a woman, lumpy, swarthy, with a mass of greying black hair spilling down over her bona fide hunchback.

My brother and his friends told stories about her, imitating her screeching voice and her derisive comments. I was entranced. I wanted to be her — I wanted to have a doctorate in English, head up the
English department of a fairly well funded public high school, and I wanted to teach other people about Chaucer. I wanted to bathe in poetry all day.

Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t get my wish. It might be sour grapes, but looking back over the course of my life and talking with other poets has helped me realize something I didn’t get when I was 17: that poetry is a rare, intense, sweet thing, like chocolate. And like chocolate, I find it best served in moderation.