Marc Kaminsky/ poem: The Time Clock


How little I remember of that English class!
Yet in our immigrant enclave of the Bronx,
in the early fifties, education
was the true religion of our elders
who came from the poor corners
of Europe. Mostly they worked
under the rule of factory discipline,
which they expected us to learn at school.
The so-called skill set that we needed
to master included finishing work on time,
efficiency, speaking standard English.
Yet how little I remember about that class!  
At first I get back only the bare room
and my good posture, spine
straight, mind alert, hands folded
on the desk, waiting for the signal, Begin.     
Where the photo of Stalin would have been
if my grandmother hadn't escaped
from Moldavia, the great white face
of the clock exacts obedience as we bow
our heads over our blue books. Now
the teacher appears, a wizened old woman
with orange hair, dressed in black,
she parades up and down the aisles, a ruler
in her right hand, its sharp sudden crack
coming down on somebody's desk
distracts me as the minute hand above
moves silently
toward its alignment with the hour
when the bell will sound, the loudspeaker
will blast commands; over the din,
the hoarse voice of the teacher will be heard
issuing the order, Pencils down! Racing
to complete the last essay, I'm amazed
that I can produce line after line
on Kipling's "Road to Mandalay" under
these conditions: the whack of the ruler
spreads fear as it disciplines the classmate
who sat up, yawned, stretched his arms,
and stole a glance at my exam.
​He's marched off to a corner, made
to face the wall, denied the opportunity
of finishing the test, an example to all
of us, an F scrawled on his face sheet.
And I feel the time I need
is being expelled from the room, leaving me
breathless, a boy learning to work
under the tyranny of the time clock. 
Marc Kaminsky is a poet and psychotherapist 
in private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author 
of nine previous books of poetry, including       
The Stones of Lifta (Dos Madres Press), The Road 
from Hiroshima (Simon & Schuster), and Daily Bread 
(University of Illinois Press). His poems, essays and 
fiction have appeared in many magazines and 
anthologies, including The Manhattan Review, 
The American Scholar, Natural Bridge, The Oxford 
Book of Aging, and Voices within the Ark: 
The Modern Jewish Poets.      

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