A Modern Use of Classic Literature
The professor finds it difficult to relate to most people, because he
doesn’t keep up with current trends. Sometimes, he feels like he’s
nothing but a hieroglyph, an anachronism, in the world, but not of it.
He exists on the declining capital of his timeworn education,
only digesting books written by dead people, picking clean centuries
of stanzas and shards of vocabulary over years of analysis.
One day in a book shop, he marvels at the glut of new publications.
They’ve crowded out the classics, which are confined to only a few
shelves, and most of those books have been marked down in price.
But there’s a beautiful woman standing in front of those shelves,
and he summons the courage to speak to her. “Do you enjoy
the classics?” he says. “Oh, yes” she replies. “Especially Langston Hughes.”
He clears his throat, and recites a quote from Hughes, “Folks, I’m tellin you,
birthin is hard and dyin is mean, so get yourself a little lovin in between.”
She chuckles, then seductively quotes Oscar Wilde, “The only way
to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” He smiles, moves closer and tells
her that William Blake also opined, “Those who restrain desire, do so
because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”
She laughs and reminds him that John Donne was one who didn’t want
to be restrained. ‘License my roving hands and let them go before, behind,
between, above, below.’”
The professor, with an exaggerated expression of shock, says,
“And then, of course, there’s Henry Miller.”
“Do you know a quote from him?” she says.
“Oh yes” he replies, “From Tropic of Cancer.” And then
he utters the quote slowly, turning over each word on his
tongue like a butter rum Lifesaver, while looking into her
eyes, “To have her in bed with me, breathing on me, her hair
in my mouth. . .I count that as something of a miracle.”
She extends her hand, smiling, “My name’s Molly, and who might you be?”
One Small Moment to Remember
She stays once more in a long-deserted warehouse, its broken windows,
the targets of rock-throwing kids, letting in the rain, sunlight and sparrows.
She lies on an abandoned, cushionless couch, her temporary bed until the
police come, the building is sold, or bulldozers arrive to take it down. It is
thoughts like these that keep her awake, and drive her to sit outside in the
yard amidst the dumpsters, empty gas cylinders, rusty pipes and discarded
pallets, surrounded by a sagging chain link fence. It’s a cool evening with a
breeze blowing from the west, and she sits against the side of the building
in hopeless reflection. She regrets the death of her father, dropping out of
school at sixteen, running away from a foster home, and selling her body
to strangers. She laments the stealing, beatings, drugs and arrests. Wrapping
the elastic around her arm, she finds a bulging vein, injects the heroin, lights
a cigarette, and watches the smoke spiral upward.
And as her consciousness begins to drift, she thinks back to a time long ago,
when she was twelve years old, and there was a dance recital. She recalls
her image in the bedroom mirror and how her finger traced the starry trail
of sequins on her dance costume. Her father sat in the front row that night,
happy and proud, his daughter with a wide grin, blond hair, eyes blue and
bright, her whole life ahead.
But later that day in the warehouse yard, her eyes become lifeless,
vacant as two ball bearings. And when the police find her, they wonder
why a smile remains on her face. How could they know, that once,
she had a family, and lived in a house? Or that once, she danced for
her father, with sparkling leaps across the stage. It might seem a small
moment to some, but she was a princess then, and loved.
William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan. He has published seven collections of poetry (Points of Interest, Uncommon Pursuits, Remnants, Stories in Stained Glass, Carvings, Going South and Contemplations) and one book of short stories (Youthful Indiscretions) all available on Amazon.com. Over 175 of his poems and short stories have appeared in literary journals and his work is frequently anthologized.