I’m teaching English 111, Introduction to Literature and Composition Part I, degree requirement basics. It’s not at my usual university, bleeding funding and scholars. I’m at a small school overlooking Wayne Gretzky Drive, built out of brick by tall Lutheran men, furnished with wooden lecterns too tall for me to see over. It’s a secular university now, but in a little-used courtyard there’s a granite memorial bench engraved with a Bible verse about perfection in weakness where I set my bag while I slip into a mask every day.
True enough, and even from beneath the lectern, I am qualified as anything to do the job, not at all an imposter. I have everything I need, though some of it is dusty, a bit beige, like the opening unit on English poetry, with its technicalities of rhythm, meter, rhyme, form.
Quick, how many beats in an anapest, and which of them is the one that is stressed?
My books on these are from the 90s, and they are thick as bricks, marked with the name I got from my father rather than the one I took from my husband. The edges of their covers are reinforced with sello tape, holding up well. The world is different now, and rereading them is opening a familiar window to find the view has changed, and the way the light refracts now makes the place where you stand to open the window look different too.
I will not call this rhyme feminine. I will not fail to mention that norms of academic English diction are colonial gatekeeping. And I will say, “Don’t necessarily think of Shakespeare as the OP, but as the first big account to repost that trope or saying.”
None of this is to say that the 90s, the old books’ decade of origin, are now lost on me. I started the decade a high schooler and left it a mother. Ten years is half of everything when you’re in your twenties. Big Shiny Years.
Books and music were the only art I could afford in the 90s, and so I’m listening to Blur as I reread for English 111. Past the holiday sarcasm and the Woohoo, it’s more like flawless, earnest harmony not properly appreciated in the – well, in the blur of coming of and out of age in the 90s.
Still can’t believe Dolores went and drowned.
There will always be Nirvana, I suppose, on the car radio just this week. I’ll usually pass it over. Our songs weren’t radio tunes. (I’ll wear a shield, I’ll go out of my way to prove) to my son, next to me in the car, that I kept the words to “All Apologies.” Try not to cackle when you sing to your kid, “EVeryTHING is my FAULT.” Oh, that last anapest, it might be a joke.
Still in the poetry unit, I found the stack of unworn jeans my last son had outgrown before he could wear them. Tags still on, maybe I could keep them, wear them 90s-ly (or is it 2020s-ly), high and loose everywhere. Scuffing around the house all day, legs dark and stiff, the waistband floating around my ribcage, tripping me on the stairs. Couldn’t make it work then, can’t do it now.
And on the night when my disease flared and I couldn’t eat at dinnertime, my husband brought a tub of chocolate ice cream to bed, and we chipped at it with one big spoon as it softened around the edges of the container, as if we were the only people here to feed off it.
“I haven’t done this in ages,” I said, as he clicked the next episode. “This is how I treated myself in the 90s. I’m telling you, it’s all about the 90s right now.”
He’s not used to thinking about it anymore and asks, “Were we really in it?”
If we hadn’t been there, there’d be no tape on the books, no names, no fault. We were there, thereabouts, in it enough to see selves of ours in the poetry, in the archeology of someone else’s twenties, in English 111.