Mostly, I manage to feel sympathy
for my students, to not compare Americans
with Rwandans. I put on blinders like horses wear
to shut out the sight of heavy traffic
as they pull carts of tourists through Central Park.
When the puffy girl always on a diet
moans she’s starving, I don’t point out she’s only hungry;
when the boy with the mohawk and the attitude
complains of professors killing him,
I withhold my comments on the metaphor.
But when this hulking student oozes
into my office pleading to be excused
from the test I’ve scheduled for tomorrow
claiming psychological distress
from quarreling with his family over money,
the blinders slip, and I remember the Rwandan
in my class, thin as a stalk of corn,
and tall, who told me how he climbed
a tree to hide and looked down, frozen,
while his family was hacked to pieces by machetes.
And when the American promises to make up
the exam as soon as he works it through in therapy,
the blinders fall, and I see Rwanda’s blood-soaked streets.
“Be a man,” I burst out, “not a little boy,”
unable to rein in my contempt.