An Education

By LAWRENCE RAAB
“Isn’t that just another way to feel compromised?”
Professor Heninger asked. Being freshmen
and mostly women as well, I was sure
we weren’t being invited to disagree.
Then my mind wandered away and when
it came back, Professor Heninger was saying,
“Low expectations are the key to happiness,”
which made sense, however depressing
it was for me, a young person, to take to heart.
Not that I had any evidence that my expectations
should be high, though my parents were paying
a lot of money to believe otherwise.
“What do you see?” our professor hissed.
“What do you feel?” He had no reason
to be angry at me personally, so I decided
this must be part of his performance:
it was time to sound angry, or passionate.
I knew the girl in the second row
he kept addressing his thoughts to, and I figured
she was decoding them in an appropriate way.
“Time means nothing,” he announced, and that
seemed important to him, although I
was of the opinion that time was important.
But for him it must have meant
getting older. And I felt sorry
that he didn’t see that, or didn’t see
that the girl in the second row, who was
in my dorm, knew exactly what was going on.
So much of this makes you think
that bad ideas sound like bad ideas,
which is, if I may say so, an education in itself.
And even if there are less expensive ways
of finding this out, it’s worth keeping
in the back of your mind when anyone starts
lecturing you about time, or the truth,
or what it is you’re supposed to be feeling.

 

LAWRENCE RAAB is the author of eight collections of poems, including The History of Forgetting, A Cup of Water Turns into a Rose, and Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and named one of the ten Best Poetry Books of 2015 by The New York Times. A collection of his essays, Why Don’t We Say What We Mean?, was published in 2016, and a new collection of poems, The Life Beside This One, will appear in the fall of 2017. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.

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The Common’s 10 Most-Read Pieces of 2017

It seems only fitting to give one last nod to the fantastic pieces that we brought out in 2017. Below is a list of our most-read pieces of the year: the poems, essays, interviews, and art that made 2017 our biggest year yet for web traffic from around the world! We hope you'll have a look, if you haven't already, and see why this work struck a chord with readers this year.

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December 2017 Poetry Feature

ALBERTO de LACERDA
To see you is to stay and remain, / To see you is finally to see; / I open my veins to life / As if an exceptional body / Desired my blood. / I discover everything in you. / You look in my eyes: you are / The liquid filling / The bridges of heaven and earth. / To see you is to forget fear, / To speak and not see the divisions / Words create. / To see you is to be a forest.