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John Hodgen

BPR 48 | 2021

Taught The Plague for twenty years, and L’Étranger by Albert Camus,
to AP students who loved ennui and absolutes, one group in particular
who loved The Plague so much they pestered the French teacher,
Mme. Courchesne, whom they sang about derisively and on cue
to the tune of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” into teaching it too, La Peste,
just so they could read it again, double down, OD on their pain, and who
asked me to promise to teach them the worst that we do, not the best,
who smoked clove cigarettes, listened to The Smiths, The Cure, and who
snapped fingers for what they approved, nurses, Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre,
who craved for a shimmering moment, amidst their daily afternoon art
(the calibrated and careful cuttings of their wrists),
to be their school’s journalists, stigmatists, existentialists,
their walking, talking Schindler’s lists, tempests tossed,
their one-day cafeteria hunger strike for the victims of the holocaust,
their duct-taped mouths protesting censorship of the school newspaper,
their suspending their disbelief about living forever, who knew we all were
the plague, but each day willed themselves immune for 45 minutes or so,
inhabiting Oran and the quarantine, who knew both “Maman” and Meursault
and who built in their Monet hearts an impression, a mini-cathedral at Rouen,
and loved us all despite ourselves, and for ourselves, in our ruin.