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Nothing's New

                                    Martin Arnold


Dr. Cunnar loved to claim
to undermine the notion that we were special
when a particularly astute response was offered

and to prove it he’d refer to the Romans
who practiced such a comprehensive range of debauchery
even the most erotically adventurous of us
felt a bit repressed

and to prove it further all we had to do
was refer to the jokes scrawled in the margins
he’d recycle each year, the same comments
and exhausted questions he’d resuscitate; still,

we managed to learn
the more compelling a reader finds Satan’s speeches
against the powers that be,
the more charismatic Satan’s defiant character,

the more that reader fails Milton’s moral Litmus Test,
the reader’s fall mirroring the fall of Lucifer
away from the grace of Heaven.

Reciting stories about surfing the Baja
gave him a pleasure that didn’t diminish each year
and must have seemed proof that nothing’s new

just as reading the same arguments about Milton
a hundred times must have too.

At the end of each semester, students gathered at his house for a party

where we drank wine from a box in the fridge
as he played hours of WPA songs
about oppressive bosses,

about the power of collective bargaining
to fight dehumanizing working conditions,
songs about unionizing against the exploitation
(long hours, unfair wages, dangerous conditions)
of the common working man,

songs he memorized every word to
that he offered as a history lesson that night,

and as we started to sing along
I couldn’t have been the only one thinking

about a man so angered with Heaven’s inequalities,
with the class divisions of that pearly-gated community,
that he unionizes the angels against a power
with so many resources
he had to know he’d be fired,

a man brave enough even to siege Heaven
to negotiate the wages

of sin for the rest of us, here, around this table,
singing and sucking down wine and buzzing like angels …

until our teacher tumbled from the heights of a stool
and sprawled out on the icy linoleum floor
without looking startled or surprised,

as if this fall happened dozens of times before
and will keep on happening again,

looking up, amused, into the naive and innocent concern in our faces,

with a smile like a serpent,
hissing with joy.


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