The Rime of the Balanced Boxes

after Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Part I

Now, the training time had ended,
The conference day was done,
So, the teachers left the building,
Their hearts and minds as one.

They’d crafted no new teaching tools
That might help students learn;
What they had attained was vision
For which their souls could burn.

They’d been shown a pair of pictures,
Two cartoons side-by-side,
With three people poised on boxes
In both visions supplied.

The people were of different heights,
From short to one quite tall;
Each tried to watch a baseball game
Over the outfield wall.

So, each stood on a wooden box
To try and see the game,
Yet where everyone was Equal,
They really weren’t the same.

It was only on the right side,
There labeled “Equity,”
Where the boxes had been balanced
So that the short could see.

Like a Pentecostal moment,
A fire singed one’s soul,
And he knew that from that instant
Social justice was his role!

For to treat all beings as equal
Won’t right the scales of fate;
He had to shift the unfair load
That genes and stars create.

That was his mindset as he left,
Heart filled as from a feast;
To educate should be akin
To serving as a priest.

That euphoric state was short-lived—
A man had grabbed his arm.
Confused, he quickly looked at him,
Thoughts swirling in alarm.

The old man’s eyes were glittering,
His graying beard grew long;
And when the teacher pulled away,
He found that grip was strong!

“Don’t be afraid,” the man then said,
“I’m similar with you.
I once went to this same training
And left as born anew.”

“But please listen to my story,
And you will truly know
How sentiments that charm the ear
Can manifest in woe!”

Now slave to curiosity,
The teacher found a bench;
The burning doubts inside his head
This loon alone could quench.

 

Part II

“Those pictures that they showed you there
Were more than just a myth:
One day I observed such boxes,
A tale I’ll share forthwith!

Like in the image, there were three
Outside the outfield wall,
Except this was no mere drawing
To symbolize shortfall.

The tall man stood upon a box,
A sturdy wooden crate,
Without which he could see the game,
A most privileged state.

Beside him stood an average boy
Whose box made much more sense,
For, comfortably flat-footed,
His chin rose past the fence.

And, finally, there next in line
A most unhappy sight:
A child, or man, blind to the game
Due to his challenged height.

He had a box just like the rest,
Yet he could only see
The wooden planks placed ‘fore his face—
Oh, damn Equality!

So, I strode up to the tallest,
Brimming with righteous zeal,
So confident I’d set things right
With one earnest appeal.

‘I’d like to introduce myself—
Marin Err is my name.
I have a small request to make,
A favor rather tame.

‘You see that poor soul over there
Whose nose scratches the wall?
If you would simply share your box,
You all could watch baseball.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ the tall man said,
‘My name is Albert Ross.
‘But I quite like my wooden box—
I don’t mean to be cross.’

For a time that seemed forever,
I tried to help him see,
Yet the man would not acknowledge
The creed of Equity.

Oh, I had given my best shot,
And I was at a loss.
My grand designs weren’t realized
Because of Albert Ross.

Now sad as any man could be,
I turned to walk away,
Not knowing sometimes justice means
Making such men obey.

 

Part III

While I’d stewed in guilt and anger,
A man had come, unseen,
So I was shocked to see that face
When turning from the scene.

With a bulbous nose and glasses,
Forehead glistening bright,
He appeared to wear a halo
From the reflected light.

His white skin and hair contrasted
The black suit that he wore;
As his brow began to furrow,
A chill swept through my core.

“What’s going on here?” he inquired,
Gesturing to the wall,
His distinct Northeastern accent
Blazed like a fireball.

For a bit I hesitated,
Then quickly told the tale
Of how I tried to make things right,
Only to badly fail.

As he listened to my story,
He turned a crimson hue,
And the tension in his jawline
Bespoke the man’s virtue.

When I finished, the man replied,
“I’ll surely make this fair.”
Then he made for the outfield fence,
Light spiking his white hair.

“Who are you?” I quickly questioned,
Both pleased and somewhat dazed.
He turned and said his name was Paul—
“Paul A. Titian,” he rephrased.

Then, with a smile, he turned again,
And strode out toward the man.
I watched Paul as he reached the wall,
Curious of his plan.

To my surprise, he bypassed Ross,
Went to the other two;
He spoke to them, and as he did,
A discontentment grew.

They both forgot about the game
And glared at Ross’s crate;
It seemed the words worked like a spell
To conjure up their hate.

Suddenly, like a crashing wave,
They overwhelmed poor Albert Ross.
Oh, there was little I could see
In all the blurred chaos!

When they were done, it was as if
A sea-borne storm had passed,
For the tall man lay there bleeding
Like ship with broken mast.

The box once he had stood upon
Was coldly snatched away,
Provided to the shortest one
So he could watch them play.

Though all three now could see the game,
I bore a heavy cross,
For clearly my well-meaning words
Had condemned Albert Ross.”

 

Part IV

“I fear you, old man Marin Err,”
The teacher said. “No More!
I don’t want to know what happens
When seeking settled scores.”

He stood up as if to leave then,
But it was mere pretense;
He had to hear the conclusion
To the epic of the fence.

So, with very little prodding,
A light touch on his arm,
The teacher quickly sat back down
Like one held by a charm.

Marin Err gazed into the sky,
Proceeded with his thread;
Meanwhile the awestruck teacher hung
On every word he said.

“The theft of that man’s single box
Was not the worst I saw.
That was the first exhibit of
Equity’s innate flaw.

For many months I still struggled
With overwhelming guilt;
The bloody scene I had witnessed
Made inspiration wilt.

But, slowly, I began to think
Perhaps I had been wrong.
Sometimes might it be justified
To force men go along?

If one man blocks the greater good,
The sacred Equity,
Then isn’t some slight oppression
A negligible fee?

So I went back to the ballfield
To see how things had gone.
I hoped to find the ideal place
I’d staked my faith upon.

A dense line spread around the fence,
More fans than there had been,
And though many stood on boxes,
These boxes seemed more thin.

And very few could see the game,
Only the fans most tall,
Yet the view, for most, was merely
An eyeful of the wall.

But the situation darkened
When I reached the outfield wall;
On the other side of that fence,
There was no game at all!

I stood at the fence, dumbfounded—
What witchery was this?
If this sad scene was Equity,
Then something was amiss.

“Ah, I can see you are disturbed,”
Echoed a booming voice.
“But to achieve the goal we sought,
We had to make a choice.”

I tracked the sound up to the sky,
Received another shock:
Atop a hill comprised of boxes,
Paul perching like a hawk!

“Yes, we tried to balance boxes,”
That Paul A. Tician claimed.
“Yet no matter the arrangement,
It wasn’t what we aimed.

“Thus, we leaders all decided,
To make things truly fair,
We had to end the baseball game
So that folks wouldn’t care.”

“Oh, boxes, boxes everywhere,
And not a game to see;
Boxes, boxes everywhere,
And that’s Reality.”

 

Part V

The old man, who had been standing,
Slumped down upon the bench;
His manner had become subdued,
The need to speak now quenched.

He sat, not speaking for a while,
Then sighed and turned his head
Toward his young, deflated colleague,
Whose soul now sunk like lead.

“Farewell, farewell! Remember well
The truth I’ve taught you here:
The words they tell, the world they sell
Sound sweetly in the ear.

“He teaches best who knows it best—
The short can’t be made tall,
So help each man to build a box
To see over his wall.”

Then Marin Err, of hoary beard
And gleaming eyes, had left;
And the once euphoric teacher
Sat, silent and bereft.

Yet well he knew he had been spared
The damage he might cause
Pursuing that grand delusion—
Rewriting nature’s laws.

 

 

Ron L. Hodges is an English teacher and poet who lives in Orange County, California. His works have appeared in The Road Not Taken, Ancient Paths, Calvary Cross, and The Society of Classical Poets Journal 2015 and 2016. He won the Society’s prestigious Annual Poetry Competition in 2016.


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