Night Class

A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 23 1998 3:30 AM

Night Class

Night Class


By Andrew Hudgins

(posted Wednesday, April 22)

To hear the poet read "Night Class," click here.

He'd pull a yellow clipping from his wallet,
and while you read it he stared in your face.
The other students scanned the clipping, nodded,
smiled as best they could, and gave it back
to the pudgy, sweaty boy, who grinned at them
expectantly.
                        They complained, and finally
I stopped him after class.
                                                  "Uh, Mister Kearny,
maybe you shouldn't, uh, share with your friends
about shooting your father."
                                            "I didn't shoot him."
"You didn't?"
                         "No sir, I hit him with a bat.
See, he was whipping on my mom again
and whipping on me too and then one day
I just got tired of being whipped on
and I hit him with my uncle's metal bat
and just kept hitting till he didn't move.
I didn't mean to kill him, just make him stop."
His high voice trembled, his eyes were fixed on mine.
"I got my picture in the paper." He reached
back toward his hip. "You want to see the clipping?"

"That clipping, Mister Kearny, that's the problem.
People get very nervous around somebody
who's killed somebody--no matter why he killed them.
Now maybe that's unfair, but if you think
about it I'm sure you'll understand it's true."

He stared down the emptying hall
at a few students heading to their cars,
their late jobs, home.
                                        "Does that make sense to you?"

The twin fire-doors wheezed shut behind two girls.
His face deepened to a face I've come
to think of, on other faces, as ancient, accepting.

"That makes sense to you, now doesn't it?"
I said, a little sharply.

                                        "Yeah, I guess."
He was whispering.
                                 "Good, Peter. I'm glad.
Now don't forget the paper that's due Friday."

He pushed his way into the stairwell. I waited
until I heard the outside door clank shut
before I followed. I wanted to be the one
whose leaving let the hall fall into silence--
silence, which I have, from talking, learned to love.
But what, when no one loved me, have I done
but talk, talk, talk until I've said, like Peter,
the thing I shouldn't say or, as tonight,
until I've said exactly what I've had to say.
And as I hurtled home past dark, tires wailing,
I howled with every song on the radio,
screamed some teen-age stranger's stupid words,
shrieked somebody else's rage, somebody's love
till I could bear my own voice, and its silence.

Andrew Hudgins teaches at the University of Cincinnati. His next book of poems, Babylon in a Jar, will be published in August.