This week we have a prose poem, a small story that is, by turns, absurd, humorous, and a little bit menacing. You might ask yourself, Why would a teacher bring a “fully functioning” catapult into what sounds like a college classroom? That couldn’t happen, right?

(Though a catapult is a kind of weapon, I don’t think this poem has anything to do with the current debate around whether or not to arm teachers. The fact that I even need to write that sentence is, to me, disturbing. No, this catapult is something else and carries with it a different kind of danger.)

At the risk of sounding silly and dramatic, anyone who has ever taught a provocative poem or story knows how closely this week’s poem parallels what can happen in a literature classroom. A poem or story is placed before the class, its “mechanical intricacies” are discussed, and the students line up to experience it. When they’re done, it’s hard to say where each student will land – if the poem or story has done its work, the students may be quite far from where they started, so far that it might be hard to find their way back.

Jefferson Navicky is the author of “The Paper Coast,” which was just published by Spuyten Duyvil Press, and “The Book of Transparencies,” which is forthcoming from Kernpunkt Press. He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College, and lives in Freeport with his wife, Sarah, and their puppy, Olive.

Catapult

By Jefferson Navicky

The last student walks into the room. We sit in a circle. The harbor is waiting. A catapult sits in the center of the classroom, spring loaded in plywood and leather. Fully functioning, just as the facilities staff promised when they found it in the basement of Facilities. We discuss the construction and engineering of the catapult, its long sordid history, some of its mechanical intricacies. One student asks if she can put her weed in it. Others laugh. We start with the student closest to the door. When he is hurled out through the window and vanishes somewhere into the outlying harbor, the mood of the room becomes like the line to ride the Turbinator at the State Fair. Will this count for our final grade, someone asks. If you can find your way back, I say, and strap the next human fodder onto the machine. I pull the leather straps tight. An elbow cracks. Students fly through the mid afternoon sky in rapid succession like singular raindrops, the weight of their lives amassing into speeding convexities.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2014 Jefferson Navicky. It appeared originally in Birkensnake 2014 and appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to www.pressherald.com/tag/deep-water.


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