Monday, March 7, 2011

I Am Walking Up the Hill

I am walking up the Hill
Towards the campus
To Silliman Hall
Where I have a late afternoon French Class
With Professor Frank Hamlin
“French Poets of the 19th Century”
So round up the usual suspects
Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lamartine
Les Fleurs du Mal
Le Bateau Ivre
Le Lac

It is a grey mid-February day
Plenty of snow
Remains on the ground
From the previous night’s
Adding another foot of snow
To the already considerable
accumulated piles
Providing an answer to the query
Of Francois Villon
“Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?”

Already the sky begins to turn darker
As the afternoon sun
Fades into the oncoming night
And the chill of the air
Seeps down the back of my collar
And a shiver works its way up my spine

I take a deep breath
And let the cool, clean air
Fill my lungs
I feel a slight flutter
As my heart
Seems to skip a beat
Adjusting to the freezing air
I exhale a cloud
As my warm breath hits the cold

And my legs start to burn slightly
As I trudge uphill
Through the piles of freshly fallen snow
Blazing a new path
Like Shackerton
In search of the North Pole

Finally I approach
Silliman Hall
Its blazing lights
A welcoming sign
As I stamp my feet
On the hard stone steps
To shake off the clinging snow

Inside my school mates
Are waiting
Books open
Faces turned toward
The good professor
Who did not wait
For my late arrival
To begin his lecture

“Late again, Monsieur Markowitz?”
“Je m’excuse, Monsieur le Professeur”
“Pas d’excuses! Assiez -vous!”
He says not meaning to sound harsh
I take my usual seat
The old steam radiator is hissing
I can feel the heat
Warming my bones

We are reading Victor Hugo’s
Classic poem “L’Expiation”
Describing the retreat
of Napoleon’s Grand Army
From the Russian Steppes
“Après une plaine blanche, une autre plaine blanche!”

I could picture
In my mind’s eye
the defeated French soldiers
Leaning on their rifle butts
Dragging their rag-wrapped feet
One step at a time
Through the endless and merciless snow
How many miles
until they can find shelter and rest
How many more miles to go?

I chose to study French
Out of sheer intoxication
And love of all things French
Instinctively following my heart
In defiance of all things practical

Today I write my poems
Out of sheer love
For the sound of words
A love that I honed and sharpened
All those late afternoon nights
Studying at Silliman Hall
With my dear professor Hamlin
Whom I loved best of all

j.h. markowitz
Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

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