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IN THE CLOUD
A poem by Rachel Hadas
I made a list I can’t find now
(where did all my folders go?)
of words my students didn’t know.
Turmeric, poultice, fallacy,
cadence, meringue, Antigone,
last but not least Persephone
are just a few that stick with me,
plucked from the poems that we read
(I tried to stay a week ahead)
between September and December.
Many more I don’t remember.
But think of all the words they knew
or thought they knew. I thought so, too.
Thinking too hard, though, doesn’t do.
Words deeply pondered start to freeze—
as when before our tired eyes
Zoom stalls and stops (and no surprise),
leaving a dark screen, a blank hour
to fill with after and before.
Nonsense syllables devour
denotations. Happy, sad;
joyful or lonely; good or bad:
What does this mean to you? I said.
What does beautiful really mean?
I asked them as I tried to lean
into the noncommittal screen,
scanning until my eyes were sore
for the soul in each black square.
Were there really people there?
Did each name hide a secret face
sheltering somewhere in place,
some unimaginable space?
Each word they may have learned from me
in Gen. Ed. “Reading Poetry”
carries its meaning quietly,
concealed behind the livid glow
of all we learned we didn’t know.
Alone together, here we are,
stranded in our shared nowhere,
marooned in space, while, free from time,
meanings proliferate and chime
as words, unfettered, dance and rhyme.
From Love and Dread (2021), Rachel Hadas, Board of Governors Professor of English
Lampblack is a volunteer-based organization created by Black writers to support Black writers. Through direct aid, writing workshops and our reading series, we aim to expand the reach of Black literature on the page and in the world. Learn more here.