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One snowflake, a few, a dozen. . . mere flurries;

a couple billion more and you’re snowed in.

One cancer cell, twenty. . . an anomaly to watch;

add a hundred thousand and you’re defunct.

Sooner or later, Marx remarked hopefully, a

quantitative change turns into a qualitative one. 

 

The essays lie on the floor, neat as a fresh consignment

of mortar shells. In the end, value only comes from scarcity.

Good ones will be rare, of course, but even of the worthy

there can be too many.  Jam-pack your museum and

masterpieces seem cheaper.  Europe’s got too much

Rubens and not enough Vermeer.  But the bulk

will be mediocre efforts, joyless and lukewarm.

You can smell the duress they were done under.

 

If there were only ten or twenty I’d remark

on every paragraph, praise each graceful phrase,

pose queries to provoke one more foot of delving.

I’d explain patiently why based off of and

amount of troops drive me nuts; I’d draw a

broken statue beside its plinth or a Cuisinart

crammed with a battalion of conscripts.

 

But then there might be one emitting a yellow aura,

not a dead report mais un essai vrai that stirs,

a veritable voyage, not a walk around the block;

a forest trek to a misty meadow drying in the sun;

a drop down a shaft into blackness veined with gold;

the ascent of a mountain to a prospect of some

unexpected province, prosperous and green.

 

            

Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published the story collections, Life in the Temperate Zone, The Decline of Our Neighborhood, The Artist Wears Rough Clothing, and Heiberg’s Twitch; a book of essays, Professors at Play; two short novels, Losses and The Derangement of Jules Torquemal, and essays, stories, and poems in a variety of scholarly and literary journals. His novel Zublinka Among Women won the Indie Book Awards first-place prize for fiction.

 

 


This is obviously the work of a teacher who has done a lot of grading, perhaps even too much.  Resentment of the task, resistance and dread overwhelm him as he considers the sheer bulk of the students’ work.  Though he may consider himself blessed to be paid for talking to young people about books and ideas, this is where he really earns the daily bread.  Like a miner with a quota to fill, he sets his back but hesitates to raise the pick, considering what lies before him.  A bleak prospect but then he recalls the magic of a student doing superb work, breaking through, an essay that isn’t a dead report, but a real attempt at understanding, a journey that begins in a fog and ends in light.  Then, no doubt with a deep sigh, he sets to work.









 





  


Copyright 2009