Lord, You Gave Them Harvard, But What Did You Give Me?

Thirteen years later, back to the cradle
of learning, the ivy league,
now glimpsed from the bum-hole,
behind the scrim.
It’s the little things, the Irishwoman says.
Ice-cold water whenever you want it,
paper clips in colored cladding.
They afford colors at Havard
They afford acres
of grass so green it hurts your eyes,
white blossoms like grapes embowering
the red-brick lab and the very sky
itself, so clean, seems polished blue
by Harvard too.
They afford blackboards
taller than a human, each with a silver
chalk salver presented
as you mill in the room of brick arches
and leather armchairs, the theoretical life.
Champagne they afford.
Cookies, strawberries,
your plate collected under the tent.
        So green the wet ground.
She says, “I tell them, ‘If
you want something done, sit down
on the Great Lawn in April,
because that grass has to be green for Commencement!’ ”
The white chairs assemble
in rows like waves, a choreography of summer,
white waves across the grass.
They fan out to cover the lawn, then contract, collapse
and vanish, animated only
by their own sense of rightness, you might think,
except for the savor that reaches you faintly
but rancid, men’s sweat.
        In Accounts the brown girl says, “I been
talking to myself all yesterday, saying,
‘You cannot let things bother you. You
cannot let things bother you.’ ” But that’s in Accounts.
In the Yard everything is beautiful.
You bask, you almost
think that you are one of them, the cushioned class.
At some point you don’t ask, “Have you thought lately

that Harvard is built on the backs of the poor?”
For fear you might answer
“Not lately, no.”

2004