Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Biology Teacher by Zbigniew Herbert

Biology Teacher

I cannot remember
his face

He towered over me
his long legs spread
and I saw
a gold chain
an ash-colored vest
and a scrawny neck
with a dead bow-tie
pinned on

he was first to show us
the leg of a dead frog
touched with a needle
it contracted violently

he led us
through golden binoculars
into the intimate life
of our ancestor
the paramecium

he brought in
a dark kernel
and said: ergot

on his insistence
I became a father
at the age of ten
when after a tense wait
a chestnut sunk in water
released a yellow shoot
and everything around
burst into song
in the second year of the war
our biology teacher was killed
by history’s schoolyard bullies

if he went to heaven—

perhaps he now strolls
along long rays of light
wearing gray stockings
with an enormous net
and with a green box
happily banging behind

but if he didn’t go up—

when on a path in summer
I meet a beetle clambering
over a mound of sand
I go up to it
make a bow
and say:
—good day Sir
permit me to assist you—
I transfer him gingerly
and watch him go off
until he has vanished
into his murky professor’s office
at the end of an avenue of leaves

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