The Teacher by Manash Bhattacharjee

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Tree Trunks in the Grass (1890) by Van Gogh

To Upal Deb

He wasn’t a blackboard
Framing flightless birds
Not a classroom figure
Offering the curriculum
To rows of bored faces

He sat on his bed facing
The window Van Gogh
Painted a bit differently
Barely allowing the light
To disturb a perverse air
Issuing not from books
Piled in honour of chaos
But from his own mind
Recalling amorous stories
Of poets and neighbours
Spiced with Marvell’s satire
And Rimbaud’s censures
That shook my cup of tea
With astonished laughter

He did not speak as much
As he knew you could tell
From his eyes and a smile
That dissolved all curiosity
And two poets a year is all
I got for earnest pleadings

He had hidden all the poets
From my view he said later
I asked with surprised eyes
Why such secret unfairness
To that he smiled looking
Outside the window where
You could see a sliding hill
Of trees that held up the sky
And spoke, “I deprived you
Of Pessoa and Rilke so that
You pass your bachelor’s in
Politics without poets ruining
Your slim regard for exams”

How incredible for a logic so
Cruel to be generous at heart
Such dangers lurking between
Poetry’s future and practical
Woes behind the same future

I wondered if books gave him
Such wisdom or the view from
His window or the intersection
Of light between those books
And the trees in conversation
Like the oak and the linden of
A shared memory of bark and
Parchment changing forms to
Become pages where the eyes
Of the sun run over alphabets
Of ancient ink in new varieties

Poetry alone keeps silent about
What it knows and what it half
Withholds in order to say better
Or the teacher knows who lives
By the hill and offers medicines
Slowly for illnesses without cure