The BOOKPRESS September 1998

Emeritus For Harvey Fireside


Gail Holst-Warhaft

"I am what is called a professor emeritus-
from the Latin e, 'out', and meritus, 'so he ought
to be'. " (Stephen Leacock).

Merit's a bleak word, solemn as a watch-chain
or a row of medals across the chest.
With an e and an us it's honorable discharge -
enforced rest on a bed of laurels
that prick pride. Beside 'professor'
it spells the end of life as you knew it
with all its dull duties, its to and fro
of student bodies predictable as V's
of geese across the sky; the beginning
of a life without constraint, of rest
deserved if not desired. There are those
emeriti who come in every day
to get their mail and chat to colleagues
before they take a swim and add a line
to papers they have always meant
to end. Others spend half their year
in Florida, wishing they were back
in the slush and scuffle of half-term.
You, of course, will do none of this.

II.

The story I liked best at the party
when old friends gathered at your house
to celebrate your rise to the emeriti
was how you told your youngest child
not to mention the renegade priest,
Daniel Berrigan, was hidden in your house.
Later a mother told you that at least
half the children knew the secret
and shared it with their parents. The FBI
thought a fugitive would not court danger
hiding among children too young to lie.
So Berrigan moved from house to house
wherever children were and you,
mild and smiling rebel, found
ways to rescue a Russian Jew
illegal Mexicans, Bosnian refugees.
Your Viennese father saw you were schooled
in secrecy, chose a safe house for each
of you. When so many were fooled
he shrewdly planned his family's escape.
You learned from him temerity
takes practice. Expert now
in daring, you're one of the emeriti.

                Gail Holst-Warhaft

Gail Holst-Warhaft is a poet, translator of Modern Greek, and a frequent contributor to The Bookpress.

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