I'd like to comment first on the inauguration of David Rees Evans as the president of Southern Vermont College in Bennington. I had not known this impressive man prior to the ceremony last Friday, so was particularly honored that he asked me to read the title poem of my last collections, "I Was Thinking of Beauty," at the ceremony.
I am so glad to have been on hand for the most compelling inaugural speech I have ever heard.
Southern Vermont College is a small liberal arts institution, 65% of whose students are the first in their families to have gone on to post-secondary education. I had lunch with a number of undergraduates prior to Mr. Evans's investiture, and was impressed by their curiosity, ambition, and charm. The same for such of their teachers as I met. These qualities confirmed my view that the best students are the best students everywhere; they are not all to be found in the so-called selective places.
President Evans pointed out that these supposedly more elite colleges and universities have a way of educating their students to believe that their own successes are part of some natural order of things.
I know the justice of that argument, so to speak, from within, having attended such an institution. And yet, by way of geography and of sharing hunting and fishing enthusiasms with many excellent people who never dreamed of higher education at all, I learned early on that the self-congratulation of privileged folks like me was not always deserved at all, that the social capital many of us inherited was the defining distinction between us and lots of hardworking, highly intelligent people, ones who often had skills as refined and crucial as any that we could boast. (Try fixing an electrical problem in your house, say, by way of your Ph.D. in art history.) Of course I can scarcely even sketch the president's argument in such short compass; but then again, I could not present it half so eloquently as he did anyhow.
I wish President Evans a long and productive tenure at SVC, a college that is striving to right some of the inequities I have hinted at.
In our house there is sadness that the older son of my wife's little sister is in a direc condition, owing to too many concussions. In his high school years, he was considered one of the best high school ice hockey players in the nation; however, before going on to college (and he'd have had his choice of many as a hockey recruit) he forswore the game, not least because one of his best friends and fellow players had been so badly brain-injured that ti took him an extended period even to be somewhat functional. Ironically enough, our nephew Danny finds himself in the same situation now. He is dropping perforce out of Colorado State, having suffered yet another concussion– in a neighborhood pickup game of all things, with small kids and geezers like me in the mix.
I was a hockey player myself, and have the missing upper teeth to prove it; but I was one of the lucky ones, escaping TBI in the course of my far less illustrious career. The following poem meditates on some of these matters:
Clear and Cold
I don’t give a damn if that moon over our old valley
Looks twice the size of earth, if it crowds the sky,
Annihilating stars while I drive home unhappy
In a season after afternoons have died–
I will not write one word to praise this light,
Not with my nephew torqued in a hospital bed
By seizures after bashing his head on the ice
In a neighborhood shinny game, for the love of God,
Every college hockey coach in the nation
Had been looking at him with avaricious eyes.
But here he was whooping it up on school vacation
With guys my age and tottering kids on his side.
It doesn’t mean a thing, the stinking moon.
This child, a grown man now, has always been
The soul of sweetness. I couldn’t care less how huge
That fat lump of flotsam is. I’m thinking again
Of how one night, when his allergy to peanuts
Kicked in, the boy was loath to let anyone take him
To the oxygen tent and drugs at our backwoods clinic.
He hated to cause a bother. But he got taken.
The blue of his eyes seemed more vivid then for his fear–
Or ours. His hair shone gold as that ball up there.
And now these spasms, this pain, his parents’ despair.I can’t rhapsodize on the moon, so candid and clear.