Afternoon. Across the garden, in Green Hall,
someone begins playing the old piano —
a spontaneous piece, amateurish and alive,
full of a simple, joyful melody.
The music floats among us in the classroom.
I stand in front of my students
telling them about sentence fragments.
I ask them to find the ten fragments
in the twenty-one-sentence paragraph on page forty-five.
They’ve come from all parts
of the world — Iran, Micronesia, Africa,
Japan, China, even Los Angeles — and they’re still
eager to please me. It’s less than half
way through the quarter.
They bend over their books and begin.
Hamid’s lips move as he follows
the tortuous labyrinth of English syntax.
Yoshie sits erect, perfect in her pale make-up,
legs crossed, quick pulse minutely
jerking her right foot. Tony,
from an island in the South Pacific, sprawls
limp and relaxed in his desk.
The melody floats around and through us
in the room, broken here and there, fragmented,
re-started. It feels Mideastern, but
it could be jazz, or the blues — it could be
anything from anywhere.
I sit down on my desk to wait,
and it hits me from nowhere — a sudden,
sweet, almost painful love for my students.
“Nevermind,” I want to cry out.
“It doesn’t matter about fragments.
Finding them or not. Everything’s
a fragment and everything’s not a fragment.
Listen to the music, how fragmented,
how whole, how we can’t separate the music
from the sun falling on its knees on all the greenness,
from this moment, how this moment
contains all the fragments of yesterday
and everything we’ll ever know of tomorrow!”
Instead, I keep a coward’s silence.
The music stops abruptly;
they finish their work,
and we go through the right answers,
which is to say
we separate the fragments from the whole.
Al Zolynas spent his boyhood in Australia before coming to the United States when he was 15. He taught in the English department at Alliant University for many years and is a senior Zen practitioner. Many of his poems can be found online. The poem is published by permission. Photo credit: Arlie Zolynas.