On an Indian summer day that smells of burning leaves,
my students dissect Mark Antony's speech. A girl
who never raises her hand and never speaks above
a whisper explains his use of repetition, wonders
aloud why Brutus didn't stay to keep an eye on him.
A boy who is counting the days to graduation likes
Antony's sarcasm and how he wept using emotional
appeal to sway the plebs. These middle schoolers
whose voices span octaves in a single sentence,
whose moods shift quicker than a minute hand
take time to hear Shakespeare's voice, to hunt parallel
text for understanding. Counting each other's lines
from the previous day, they argue over parts to read.
That evening, the sun leaves the sky earlier than yesterday,
a chill descends. I once made a living writing persuasive
copy, but over dinner I forget Shakespeare's lessons. Misplaced
words and missing antecedents. Pertinent facts omitted. No trace
of logical sequence in my story. You look at me over the edge
of reading glasses across a table set for two that now seems as long
as a medieval banquet. My diction is off, so I begin again chanting
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but you only ask —
what do you want me to do about the past?
A charcoal sky backdrop. Bare trees stand straight
waiting for low sun rays to cut across frozen, flat land.
He speaks of meanness, a streak as wide and deep
as the nearby river, its swift current pushing chunks of ice.
Wind lashes without knowing the depths it reaches. Words
sting silently, open the last light of a frigid night dawning.
She doesn't feel the blood rising to the surface, doesn't know,
really know, passion until the skin bruises blue then purple
speckles pool along her neck. How quickly it turns
from summer sweetness, a rush of tides, to wild winter wickedness.
Charcoal sky opens. Snow flurries. Winter stands still.
In past lives Dawn Leas was a copywriter, admission director, and middle-school English teacher and is now the associate director of the Low-Residency M.A./M.F.A. Creative Writing Programs at Wilkes University. Her chapbook, I Know When to Keep Quiet (Finishing Line Press, 2010) is available in print and Kindle versions, and a collection of her poems will appear in an anthology being released by SwanDive Publishing in spring 2014. Follow her on Twitter and visit her website.