What Ever They Want

by Gail Mazur

Tonight, my students can ask me anything.
I’ll tell them the story of my life,
whatever they want. Outside, traffic shimmers
in the gulf haze, mosquitoes incubate
in the bayou. My students laugh softly
at the broad a of my accent, evidence—
if they need it—of my vulnerability,
a woman fallible enough to be
their mother. And it’s easy, I’m easy
with their drawled interrogations,
their curiosity, the way they listen
without memory or desire every Monday,
while I peel another layer from the onion,
the tearjerker, while the air conditioner
in the classroom stirs the fine hairs
on their arms, and I forget the cool protections
of irony, giving them my suffering family,
my appendectomy, my transcendent first kisses—
What kind of teaching is this?
I transport them with me to Maine,
to the Ukraine, they see my great-uncle’s
dementia, my cat’s diabetes—exotica
of gloom, pratfalls, romantic fantasias,
extravagant sleet, snow, sweet innuendoes. . . .
They ask for it, they want to tell me things, too,
Texas stories, with boots, with dead fathers
and shrimp boats, with malls, with grackles,
with fire ants, with icehouses, with neon,
with rifles, and the Holy Scriptures—
Inexhaustible reality!
When I drive home singing past the palm trees
and the tenebrous live oaks and the taquerias,
I’m in the movies, and later, when I sleep,
I dream of my babies, their insatiable hungers,
I give them permission to say whatever they want,
as long as there’s no meanness in it,
as long as words taste bittersweet,
as long as they’re true, as long as they move me.

Gail Mazur, “What Ever They Want” from Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Originally published in The Common, 1995.