The Parts of a Lesson

My students and I sit around a bonfire,
throwing objects into the flames and observing
the different ways they burn.  Swollen
with my own importance, I pontificate
on the effects of fire on matter.

Crumpled sheets of paper
flare up like baseball-sized meteors
and collapse into spheres of glowing ash.

A closed textbook sits briefly,
dampens the flames before they lick
around its edges tentatively and then
with fervor until the laminated cover
melts, the edges of the pages
glow, spark and shrivel.

After a while we run out
of things to throw into the fire
and they sit, silently mesmerized
by the low cackle of matter
being reduced to ash.  Their attention
has gravitated from me and I grow nervous.

Eager to impress, I offer something new.
They are curious but hesitant as I loosen
my smallest finger from its joint,
pulling and twisting until it pops.
I split the skin with a pinch and pass
the finger to my favourite student.

She takes it in both hands; I watch her
run her own fingers along the nail
and each knuckle before flicking the finger
into the fire.  The silence swells
as we watch.  My ego expands.

Skin bubbles, shrivels to black.
Syrupy liquid froths from the base,
open and ragged.

Caught up in the thrill,
other students ask me for more
so I pop fingers off one at a time.
When the next group
of students arrives I am out
of fingers but full of pride.

So I peel off my ears, which flare up
and shrivel in a matter of seconds.

My toes burn like fingers
only smaller; hands and feet offer
a steady burn with several frothing
knuckle joints.  I feel like a god.

Students from other classes
come around to see the burning
of the teacher.  Oh, yes.

They hang around for a while,
then drift away.

Panicked by the waning interest, I peel
the skin from my torso, ball it up and throw
it into the centre of the fire, loosen
muscle from bone, snap
ribs off two at a time.

Finally, I am
before my students, only a tongue flapping
on a stump.  They sit awkwardly
as the fire dies to a flaky glow, and eventually
disperse into the night, disappointed
and craving something more.

Alone, I loll and notice a slight itch
where my smallest finger used to be.

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