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Lines Abandoned by My Students

Richard Terrill

In their poems two things always happen at once: 
a sigh as two memories intertwine,
or breath on cold window glass
while lovers lie on wrinkled sheets.
Cigarettes are never lit by the person smoking them, 
the moon never not apparent through the trees.
  
It was the year of four family funerals,
The year the rain fell red and we tired of grief.
All fall the deer stole apples from our backyard; 
All winter our skin dried to crust.

I find a sheaf of their lines in an envelope,
a forgotten exercise they scribbled in class 
– the tall bleached blonde, for instance, svelte and tight 
as rope, who on Day One announced her dream: 
to be the next Katie Couric. 
Or the guy who liked to make up stories 

that sounded like movies from some old war.
And the woman about to graduate: 
smartest in the class, she seldom spoke.
Her poems rearranged muscle and bone,
left starbursts on wrists and the small of backs.
Late semester, she moved in with her boyfriend in Duluth.

It was the year of shallow rivers, of butterflies 
In the grass, plush and green,
The crunch of cinders in our driveway.
The silos swayed, capped by light. It was the time 

Of cotton stirred up from dandelions
Like people in a field, 
Only quieter, much quieter.  
It was the year the daffodils wept.

Richard Terrill, a former student and instructor at UW-Eau Claire, is the author of two collections of poems: Almost Dark and Coming Late to Rachmaninoff (winner of the Minnesota Book Award). “Lines Abandoned by My Students“ first appeared in Almost Dark (2010), and it is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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