Apr 182013

by Carl AuerbachRwanda genocide wanted poster



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.