We Know

In that spring semester course
There were 40 students
The official limit was 35
But I let more in

Before starting The Book of Mev
I asked
“How many of you
Have known someone—

A family member
A friend, a neighbor
A teammate, a teacher
Who experienced any kind of cancer?”

I asked because I was curious
I knew what we all went through
And wrote a book about it
(Part two, anyway)

I reckoned there were students
Who had their own intense experiences
Before their 18th birthdays
Because of what their dear ones underwent

It was a full class that day
40 out of 41 of us raised a hand
We were all citizens and kindred spirits
In the United States of Cancer


Sink or Savor (After the Haitian Poetry Discussion)

This week I’ve had these eerie premonitions
(I really need to say my mantram a few thousand times to Sri Anandamayi Ma)
“Eerie” because of my selfishness
Premonitions that you will be going to San Francisco for the next four+ years of your life and it’s only 2057 miles from here
“Eerie” & disorienting & gotta catch my breath
(“Is there a doctor in the house?”)
Because soon there’ll be no opportunity for
Walking with you in the Central West End
Eating at bistros
Revealing and reveling about reading & writing
And simply seeing your face
And something inside me sinks …

But there you were tonight
Didi to all these academic, pre-med youngsters
You, so serene, so wise, so cool
To come to an event that probably most 4th years would find inconceivable
But why shouldn’t you come
Since you too are a poet
(With a blog to prove it to the entire world wide web)
Since you too have traveled here and there
And had your heart split open one way or another
By people whose struggle and dignity put so many of us to shame
Since you too are a chef and a should-be nationally certified connoisseur of chocolate
And I have my darshan of you sitting across the room
Reading aloud a Creole translated poem
Listening with ekāgratā to what people are saying
And this after a long’s day’s work
After three and a half long years of effort
And something inside of me savors…


For a Grad Student in Doubt (“What Am I Doing Here?!”)

Declare Wednesdays as the weekly liberated time zone of not once having to justify being in school to yourself or to anyone
Leave guilt at the door of the library, then stride in with gusto, like you own the place

Cut class sometimes and reread Twelfth Night
Develop your ability instantly to recognize sheer academic arbitrariness

Caress your treasured volumes
Bask in knowledge

Flaunt your ignorance
Vibrate via questioning

Delight in mapping your mind’s own quivers and calculations
Go buy a two dollar notebook

Send your uncle a postcard of monosyllables with what you got out of this week’s Foucault seminar
Console someone who’s hurting in life (who knows not the beauty and burden of books)

If intellectual contortions lead to corporal ones, see a Feldenkrais practitioner
Make it a point to say one irrelevant thing in each class

Become proficient in being calm before entering inscrutable intellectual labyrinths
Put on “Like a Rolling Stone” and listen to five times in a row (“You used to be so bemused, At Donny Trump in Dockers and the expletives he used”)

Schedule a weekly meeting with a friend to drink half the usual amount of caffeine and only talk about what you were like at age 5
Accumulate this week

Give it all away next week
When you’re about to burst with doubt & screams & thrashing & fists clenched at the cosmo

Go do the laundry, but at the nearest laundromat
Befriend someone there who is your mother’s age


A Facebook Message
by Lindsey Trout Hughes

I posted something on Facebook today
a gut response to that horror in Florida
and anyway it seems to be helping some hurt people
in a small way
and I wouldn’t have posted it
had I not taken your class
so many thanks to you
and now I’ll go cry some more
before I go write out this rage
like a motherfucker


After Class

I tell you a joke, Shaneeka
And no surprise
You laugh

You don’t censor your laughter
Do you?

You only censor it
If you realize
“Ah, this may hurt someone”

The laughs are a natural outflow of energy

Same with tears
No need to apologize
No reason to squirm

If they come when
You are reading aloud
Something in your notebook

If they come when
We’re reading Kanafani’s
“Letter from Gaza”

The tears are a natural outflow of energy
We can be with each other’s tears
Our tears aren’t taboo

Our tears are our truths



1. Select five of your dearest friends
2. Ask each to email or text you five of your most wonderful traits

3. Give them a deadline
4. Collect and move to a special archive

When needed you can regularly review the list of 25 perceptions
Of your magical mien from those unabashedly biased in their love for you


I Know the Richest Person on Earth

In our Intercultural Studies class today
Mariah, Ta’mare, and Rachel read the following stanzas
Of “Our True Heritage” by Thích Nhất Hạnh:

“The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.”

I then asked the students to discuss these questions:
Do you feel like “the richest person on Earth”?
What would make you happy, right now?
To whom do you typically offer your happiness?

After several minutes
I asked if anyone would like to share
Anlin (who came to the United States
From China last August)
Said with deep conviction
“I am the richest person on Earth
My parents love me
My friends love me
Yes, I am the richest person on Earth”


I Was Warned

“With me you don’t get a stream of consciousness.
You get a flash flood of consciousness.”


Dear 1L

You’re sitting in Civ Pro—
Looking like you’re paying attention
Masking skillfully
Your ho-hum ennui
Let me remind you—
In your deep heart’s core
You can always visit Innisfree
Or even chat with Crazy Jane


A Former Student Has Her Say

I was foolish to think I could get anything done in that café
Someone invariably would come up to me and want to talk

Like that Thursday, M marched right up to my table
And spit out what was on her mind:

“I know you think you’re doing a noble thing
Yes, I heard about this from Jenna

But I really believe you are making a bad decision
Didn’t you hear about the young woman who died over there

And for what?
For whom?

Those Muslims that danced when the towers came down?
I know you’re anti-American politically

That was clear from your class
But even if I agreed with you politically

I think it’s the wrong time
The wrong place, the wrong group

The wrong aim, and the wrong battle
Seriously, think of all you could do with your time and energy
If you worked on Darfur

You could inspire many people to fight against genocide
In a cause that’s really important”


How Sha Li Concluded Her E-Mail at the End of the Semester

Thank you for being here
or anywhere else
with grateful heart to have connection with people
I wish you enjoy every moment of your life

–Sha Li was a student in my Humanities and Western Culture class. She is from Guangzhou.


This Leads to That and That Leads to This

A couple years ago, my former SLU student Andrew Long suggested to one of his Barat Academy students that she read The Book of Mev. So she did. And through social media we got in touch. She just finished her first year at George Washington University, and it has been a delight to have visits and exchange correspondence with Liz Burkemper.


This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *