In the Bag

My hand, stiffer and scalier than on earlier expeditions,

reaches into the cavernous interior of my book bag

like an old snake, bound up in its own tired skin,

slinking through a hole into its den underground,

but finding it in disarray, as if disturbed by intruders,

bent on deceit rather than theft, who left the furnishings

behind, taking away only the comfort of familiarity,

of the sure knowledge of where things lie and who

placed them there, slithering serpentine among

the colored folders meant to keep the papers organized,

searching them for—what was it, the syllabus, an graded

essay for a student previously absent, one of my many

misplaced lists and books, papers and pens and markers?

My looking is taking too long; some eyes are looking up

from phones, someone has asked a question that I

haven’t quite grasped. My mind has wandered to that time

in fourth grade when I worked so far ahead but then

couldn’t find my assignments and had what I know now

was one of my earliest panic attacks, but back here

in today’s class, students are offering excuses, asking for

favors, reporting problems, and, my brain nearly

exploding on its re-entry into  present time, which is now

future time because it kept going while my mind

bogged down in the mud of distant memory and lost

its focus on the short-term—short-term, school term,

syllabus, calendar, what was the question? The snake

bares its fangs but loses focus on its strike so that the prey escapes,

and I withdraw my hand from the bag, empty, still needy,

and as the hungry unfed snake crawls back into the light

to warm its chilly blood, I rest my arm on the podium

and gaze out into the eyes of my students and wonder

what they have remembered, what they have forgotten,

what dreams they have tried to prey on and seen escape,

what uneasiness they feel crawling out of their comfort

zones, if their thoughts, like mine, wander and rebel,

mutiny against them like drunken sailors aroused against

an incompetent captain too weak to maintain order.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper