The Limits of Self-Empowerment

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My Latin professor in undergrad
was a large, ruddy-brown-skinned
Bronx-raised Italian.
She drank coffee all day,
and all class,
which stimulated her soap-boxing
about politics,
and how students wouldn’t memorize paradigms,
and how much she loved the Stanford library.

And in between these impromptu
lectures, she would
sometimes teach grammar
and syntax and parsing.
One class lecture,
she started again —
“I believe” — she said boldly, in that tone,
which is meant to give goose bumps —
“that if I truly believed,
I could jump out that window and fly.”

She called as proof,
Helen Keller, who
had believed herself into
so many things;
such was the degree
of her self-achieved greatness.

I was pudgy and shy,
not saying much.
So I surprised myself, when
I squeaked out a retort,
my cheeks going flush;
My professor looked at me,
shocked, and
asked me to repeat myself.
Then she stared at me, muted,
when I said again, louder:
“I said,” my voice almost cracked,
“She couldn’t make herself see.”

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