Messieur Degas Teaches Art and Science at Durfee Intermediate School--Detroit, 1942

phishcake5
phishcake5
Jul 24, 2008, 10:26 AM |
2

Messieur Degas Teaches Art and Science at Durfee Intermediate School--Detroit, 1942

 

He made a line on the blackboard,
one bold stroke from right to left
diagonally downward and stood back
to ask, looking as always at no one
in particular, "what have I done?" 
From the back of the room Freddie
shouted, "you've broken a piece
of chalk."  Messieur Degas did not smile.
"what have I done" he repeated.
The most intellectual students
looked down to study their desks
except for Gertrude Bimmler, who raised
her hand before she spoke.  "Messieur Degas,
you have created the hypotenuse
of an isosceles triangle."  Degas mused.
Everyone knew that Gertrude could not
be incorrect.  "It is possible,"
Louis Warshowsky added precisely,
"that you have begun to represent
the roof of a barn."  I remember
that it was exactly twenty minutes
past eleven, and I though at worst
this could go on for another forty
minutes.  It was early April,
the snow had all but melted on
the playgrounds, the elms and maples
bordering the cracked walks shivered
in the new winds, and I believed
that before I knew it I'd be
swaggering to the candy store
for a Milky Way.  Messieur Degas
pursed his lips, and the room
stilled until the long hand
of the clock moved to twenty one
as though in complicity with Gertrude
who added confidently, "You've begun
to separate the dark from the dark."
I looked back for help, but now
the trees bucked and quaked, and I
knew this could go on forever.

 

Philip Levine