This evening we gathered around our dinner table with friends, as is our Friday night custom, and one of them, John, said, “I have a poem to read.” What followed were words full of flavor and sustenance by a poet named Thomas Centolella, who was a new name to me. I would be remiss if I did not pass along to you what was given to me.
In the Evening We Shall Be Examined on Love
And it won’t be multiple choice,
Though some of us would prefer it that way.
Neither will it be essay, which tempts us to run on
When we should be sticking to the point, if not together.
In the evening, there shall be implications
Our fear will change to complications. “No cheating,”
We’ll be told, and we’ll try to figure the cost of being true
To ourselves. In the evening, when the sky has turned
That certain blue, the blue of exam books, books of no more
Daily evasion, we shall climb the hill as the light empties
And park our tired bodies on a bench above the city
And try to fill in the blanks. And we won’t be tested
Like defendants on trial, cross-examined
Till one of us breaks down, guilty as charged. No,
In the evening, after the day has refused to testify,
We shall be examined on love like students
Who don’t even recall signing up for the course
And now must take their orals, forced to speak for once
From the heart and not off the top of their heads.
And when the evening is over and it’s late
The student body asleep, even the great teachers
Retired for the night, we shall stay up
And run back over the questions, each in our own way:
What’s true and what’s false, what unknown quantity
Will balance the equation, what it would mean years from now
To look back and know
We did not fail.
I am grateful that John left the typewritten page with the poem here because I want to roam around in these lines over the next few days, but tonight the take away for me was, “forced to speak for once from the heart and not off the top of their heads,” which we did in the almost three hours that followed his reading of the poem, each of us around the table doing our best both to tell stories and to listen. On evenings like this, friendships grow deeper and hope takes root like the ivy that refuses to relent in its attempt to climb the side of our house.
It was good to be here.