Plagiarizing Poet, part 2

The Plagiarizing Poet has struck again. How can this be? Was I not stern enough the last time?

It is (according to him) my fault. Did I really expect him to write eight poems?

(Tiresome excuses continue as Dax rolls eyes and uses body language to say, ‘Do I look like an idiot? Or are you one?)

Dax: Well, the good news is that we can now answer the question, “Am I passing?”

PP: Do you mean that I have an F?

Dax (palm itching to slap own forehead): Why, yes. If my math is correct, zero plus zero still equals zero. More

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The Sad Tale of the Plagiarizing Poet

The Sad Tale of the Plagiarizing Poet

Once there was a student named John whose teacher told him he had to write a bunch of poems. John didn’t like writing poems, but knew his teacher would give him a zero if he turned nothing in.

Every day in class they wrote poems, but John didn’t come to class every day, so he didn’t write any. After a couple weeks, the students were supposed to turn in at least eight poems they had written.

John had other things to do, so he got on the internet and found eight poems that someone else had written.

He told himself, “It’s just a bunch of silly poems. It’s not like it’s brain surgery or something. Besides, everybody cheats. That’s how people get ahead.”

John’s teacher realized that the poems weren’t written by him and gave him a zero.

John told him, “It’s only poetry. It’s not brain surgery. I haven’t hurt anyone, have I?”

“You’ve hurt yourself,” his teacher replied. And he gave him a lecture about plagiarism.

John had heard all this before. Still, he said to himself, “Copying assignments doesn’t hurt anyone. As long as I don’t get caught, I will continue plagiarizing because it’s much easier than working. Besides, everyone cheats.”

One day John got sick. He had a terrible headache and kept throwing up. After several hours of agony, he went to the emergency room. A doctor examined him and sent him for a cat scan.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said when he saw the results. “It looks like you have a brain tumor. You’re going to need surgery.”

John was worried, but he had no choice. He would die if he didn’t have the operation.

As he lay on the operating table, the surgeon leaned over him and said, “Don’t look so worried, John. I may have cheated my way through medical school, but I’m googling ‘brain surgery’ right now. A lot of surgeons have done this operation before and I’m sure I can just use their instructions. After all, it’s only brain surgery.”

Greek Class

This box of silent books troubles me.
Its sides are caved in, disappointed
by my worn out excuses.
If I bend the flaps open,
mustiness closes my nose
and I am in Greek class again.

You taught us Greek as if it were math;
every particle fit an order so crisp, so elegant
like lines of geometry, profoundly simple.
Real life never fit into those neat declensions,
but slipped between, untidy fallacies:
love, death, anger, time.

Honest words
I groped towards meaning
through the clutter of English
our language too soft, too dull
to reflect their many facets.
My mind, a sieve, tried to catch
small particles that orbited
around a larger meaning.

In later years words became mere tools
to pry apart life’s meaning.
But experience did not yield
like sentences we chalked on your board,
took apart, reconstructed, proved,
disproved by theorems of grammar.
What is the grammar of love?
How shall we construe death?
Where is the paradigm for despair?

Sitting on the desk you smoked cigarette
after cigarette lighting up every seven minutes
hands trembling from nicotine your body
no longer felt.  Inspired, we inhaled.
We had no choice — Greek and smoke
together, filtering meaning through haze.

You could not teach us poetry:
you were never a doer or a maker.
But as we sang the rising/falling accents of ancient words
Ancient music came to life, long-dead people
talking, arguing, loving, dying to that music.
English makes a science of these sounds:
they do not play on our ears
or dance on a stage.

But cigarettes and alcohol
and all the things you (being no poet)
could not do or make
broke your paradigm.
Like a Pythagorean discovering the impossible proof
You had to die, or change your religion.
You could not change, so you died.

I have kept my books:
Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus.
Like friends I have not written to in years
they needle my conscience,
draw my guilt like blood.
Sometimes
I open the box,
lift a volume out, feel
its weight, gently
turn fragile pages, run my eyes
over words that have faded.
That slow ache
is one more untidy detail.

In Mind

homer poetThe rhapsodes of ancient Greece were not poets; they were rememberers. They recited the poems of Homer from memory, for an audience. It seems like an incredible feat. How could anyone remember so many lines of verse? The Odyssey has over 12,000 lines of dactylic hexameter; the Iliad contains nearly 16,000.

The poems were composed orally, before writing was common, and were preserved for centuries by the rhapsodes, one generation teaching it to the next. Think of the scene at the end of Fahrenheit 451, where people have become living books, and as they grow old, pass on their words to a new generation.

But it’s hard to imagine a world where you can’t just write down what you need to remember or look up what you’ve forgotten. More

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