A mimeograph of John Ciardi’s poem was waiting on each boy’s desk as we took our seats for the first class on the first day of 7th grade at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. I nearly fainted. Amazingly, my mother kept the sheet of paper all these years. RIP, Wendell Hall: may God increase your reward with every word I write.
I wish I could teach you how ugly
decency and humility can be when they are not
the election of a contained mind but only
the defenses of an incompetent. Were you taught
meekness as a weapon? Or did you discover,
by chance maybe, that it worked on mother
and was generally a good thing …
at least when all else failed … to get you over
the worst of what was coming. Is that why you bring
those sheepfaces to Tuesday?
They won’t do.
It’s ten month’s work I want, and I’d sooner have it
from the brassiest lumpkin in pimpledom, but have it,
than all these martyred repentences from you.