Poem: Teaching Milton

Teaching Milton

by Marcia Renée Goodman

 

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:

They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,

through Eden took their solitary way.

(Paradise Lost, Book XII)

 

 

I choke up when I read them the last lines:

out of Paradise into the world they go

sadder, more connected, more needful of each other

now that death is in their future.

But not right away, Adam, who has spoken with the archangel,

reassures Eve, not yet, and not suddenly, Michael has told him,

but rather a slow moving through the world and toward an end.

 

My students know I’ve just returned from Florida

where my father is slowly and painfully dying.

They are mostly in their early twenties

but since this is a community college

many already know tragedy:

the twenty-three year old whose father was murdered

the twenty-year old whose twin sister just died of a brain tumor;

and the ordinary stories of homelessness, prison, half-way houses.

 

The poet was blind and old, I tell them,

and had already buried two wives

so he knew about loss.

His politics were out of favor.

He was briefly jailed.

 

I don’t myself understand how we all walk out each morning

into bright winter days.  Today, for example,

the sun sparkling on my deck while I read the paper

and understand that elsewhere the sky is darkened

with the smoke and debris of rifles and bombs.

We do walk out into our days,

our own deaths not yet, not now, not all at once.

Daily pleasures: words on the page,

notes played on a piano or violin, trees

and blue water in the distance,

a phone call from a daughter far away.

We go down into our days, into our momentary

endless landscapes.

 

 

Marcia Renée Goodman teaches at Diablo Valley College.  Recent poems and essays appeared in Writing on the Edge, Black Warrior Review, Coping, The Iconoclast, and the Cancer Poetry Project, and in her chapbook, Playbook for Viola.  She has a Ph.D. and M.A. from Berkeley and a B.A. from Stony Brook.

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