Tiger, Tiger


Tiger, tiger, burning bright…

I am standing in an old, sunlit classroom. The school is in Budapest’s self-described ‘ghetto,’ the 8th District. Five teenagers are sitting at wooden desks. I am facing them, back to the blackboard. The familiar fear rises then sets inside me. I begin to speak, to ask questions. The four boys respond. The girl hides her face.

In the middle of the conversation, one of the boys pipes up: And I took English literature and history too. Tiger, tiger burning bright…

I startle, turn to him. That’s one of my favorite poems. Do you know who wrote it?

The boy has green eyes and dark hair and walks with a swagger, a hand-rolled cigarette tucked behind his ear. He walked out of my very first class. Now, he’s quoting Blake. He repeats the line of poetry, stopping short – I can’t remember the rest. But I know what it means.

Later we meet at a café with other English teachers and students, and talk some more. His name is Zoltan. He has two brothers and a sister, but lives away from his family, in a children’s home. This summer, he will sell corn near Lake Balaton to earn enough money to support himself when he turns 18. He has friends who are hobos and Christian missionaries. He jokes, but there is an undercurrent of honesty that can sweep you into darker waters.

I return home from days like this, days of teaching and listening to stories and asking questions….and stand on my balcony, with the immense poplars starting to shake out their leaves, and the new spring air, and the birds making their boisterous music.

At these times, I am intensely aware of being alive, right now, in a world that is also waking up to me. Waking up to each other is how I would put it. It is a mixture of awe and absolute precision that I feel. I know that whatever confusion and bewilderment I have, it is precisely intended and meaningful. And whatever I do, I must continue to sharpen myself on this world that is also sharpening itself on me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s