for Carl Ridd, 1929 – 2003
His orange sweater damaged your hearing
it was that loud. Outside the
diesel of Greyhound buses and plebes
too poor to fly. The night class an island
of photocopies and foreign places,
his optimistic stacks of handouts.
And on the board this tall man drew a melancholy
stick figure, a zombie who could not hear.
The city roared
on Portage Avenue. Hell is other
people as usual. One student,
a young Catholic woman of mien sorrowful
and jeans tight, complexion poor, from a house
in the North End where they still spoke Polish,
wrote a love letter to every single man
in that class — including me.
The loneliest bachelor in Winnipeg
called her. My lies about love
unspoken but seductive, they brought
no sorrow on my tongue. Years later
my tall professor heard me say
I see myself confined,
an economic unit. But you’re free
he said. I did not believe him, instead
pictured the spot where Dostoevsky learned
about a plot to murder his father.
The knowledge of violence is sorrow:
drag yourself to work again,
a production carcass they call it
in meat packing. Dead subjects do not choose.
My teacher could have gone to Milwaukee
and played basketball with other tall men.
But he heard God or Beethoven, whose damaged
hearing pictured angels in Vienna.
He died quickly of cancer.
Someone heard the angels cry.
I heard only myself.