I’m teaching A Tale of Two Cities right now to my AP seniors. Don’t laugh — it’s one of my favorite books. Almost everything you could need to teach to a high school class about the study and form of literature, about writing, about vocabulary, about character arc and archetype, about narrative structure is in that book in one way or another. I also teach a lot of non-dead, non-white, non-men in my classes, too, but this is my favorite book by Dickens.
I annotate my texts and teach from them. I’ve spent the last hour transcribing notes on the four chapters I want to cover in tomorrow’s class from my old copy of the book, that is literally held together with a binder clip, into a new edition that won’t fall to individual leaves every time I open it.
This is a busy week for me. It feels like I have enough meetings and appointments and grading or critique deadlines to keep me occupied until the heat death of the universe, and more of all of these keep piling on every day. I don’t even have lunch breaks these days.
Tonight’s poem, “With Vincent, at Saintes-Marie” from Brook the Divide by Rebecca Spears resonates with me in perhaps unexpected, perhaps predictable ways.
The feeling of being in one attitude, one state, one circumstance for so long it’s beginning to transform me.
Considering jumping away into a completely different landscape, suddenly.
I hear there’s still snow up north. Here, the mugginess swelters as we flirt with just enough rain to get us out of the latest incipient drought but maybe not enough to cancel Saturday afternoon at the park.
The poem is the escape. The poem, and then back to work.
With Vincent, at Saintes-Marie
We have come to the southern sea by way of diligence.
Five hours across the Camargue.
I was a child here. I have seen this view so often
my hair has turned the night-blue of memory, woven
in white strands of Milky Way. I have begun
of salted air
and barnacles. My bones are
My insides sponge.
For the first time I see the green and yellow-russet
flecking the blue iris. Now you stare back, half-wild.
On your skin I can feel the damp, orange soil
that nourishes the wheat canvases. You smell
of sardines and tuna, silver and tin. You’ve become
The sun can cure many ills, you say.
Yes, I agree. I like to think of this sea
that falls over
the French shore here, Africa there—
from here we could go by boat
to Istanbul or Odessa
Barcelona or Algiers
leave behind this world.
I wouldn’t mind dying there, lying with you
on a cold seabed.
Imagine going down under the dazzle
of green and yellow-white stars.
lightning flashes of sun.
I must sketch the boats, you say. Accurate
drawing, accurate color.
Please, I say.
But things here have so much line.
You see things with an eye more Japanese. I feel color
Show me then, show me
how you see.
Rebecca A. Spears, author of Brook the Divide: Poems (Unsolicited Press, 2020) and The Bright Obvious: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2009), has her poems, essays, and reviews included in TriQuarterly, Calyx, Crazyhorse, Barrow Street, Verse Daily, Ars Medica, Field Notes, and other journals and anthologies. She has received awards from the Taos Writers Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and Dairy Hollow House. Brook the Divide was shortlisted for Best First Book of Poetry (Texas Institute of Letters). Spears is also a Pushcart nominee.