Confessions of an Underpaid English Teacher
by S. Thomas Summer
I admit I'd like to stroll
the other side of the tracks
own the house on the hill,
stick a silver spoon in the pit
of my son's mouth; yet here
in the belly of July, heat
scraping the day like an ulcer,
beer is cold, grass freshly
cut. The hammock sways against
a breeze that ushers a mourning
dove through the air inches above
the backyard shed. For a moment,
it rests on a lounge chair, chubby
as a tear. Light rain falls--a pair
of robins spear the soft ground
for drowning worms. My son captures
a caterpillar in an empty jelly jar.
We celebrate--Fig Newtons and cherry
popsicles. And of course, there's a volume
of Kafka waiting for me on the kitchen
table, deep in the shadow of a wine
glass tinted red with a fine merlot.
I originally found this poem in an issue of English Journal, the bimonthly publication of my professional organization. (You didn't know English teachers HAD a professional organization, did you??)
I found the title intriguing, and the sentiments are something every teacher can relate to: it'd be nice to be paid more, but the intangible benefits of this job, like summers off, can outweigh the lack of prestige.
The more times I have read it, though, I note the overall bittersweet tone, heavy on the bitter. There are a number of interesting word choices and images that, taken together, yield a dark effect: stick, pit, belly of July, scraping, ulcer, cut, mourning dove, spear, drowning worms, captures, Kafka, shadow.
It's not a simple poem, saying, "Gee whiz, teachers, isn't it great we get such neat-o summers?" Anyone who chooses to spend his summer reading Kafka, has got to be a little dark and twisty himself, with no illusions that having the silver spoon life he imagines would be any better than what he already has.