I gave the assignment most years: how do you
make this end well? Do it in one scene, write it,
perform it for the class with your study group,
with simple costumes, on Friday. So, the Nurse
smuggles Juliet to Mantua, Macbeth tells his
wife to pipe down, Hamlet gets over himself,
Hester says Screw the Letter and the horse all
of you rode in on. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale
grows a pair. Daisy realizes that Gatsby and her
husband Tom are both trouble and walks out of
the too-hot hotel room to cool off at the movies.
Three skinny high school boys wrapped in
someone’s cut-up red and green plaid Christmas
tablecloth, someone in his uncle’s snazzy white
suit with big lapels, a red construction paper
A saucering the air like a frisbee. And laughter,
laughter. I never asked them What was the
thing you just lost? I didn’t want them to see it
that way, to get used to bleak relief that comes
after two hours of for-real tears, to expect sorrow
to roll around like a curriculum: Hester in the
autumn, Gatsby right after the daffodils finish.
That’s for the teachers. We don’t know for a fact
that Shakespeare’s birthday was also the date of
his death fifty-two years later. What I’m saying
is nothing is written in stone–not really. I loved
all of your scenes. Happy weekend! You all aced it.
Editor’s Note: This poem pivots at What was the / thing you just lost? After slogging through college for a creative writing degree and raising two sons, I’ve noticed that the focus of literary studies is tragic. This poem spoke to me because the narrator deliberately avoids that common cliché. Not all the stories we tell each other are sad.