Opinion | Columns

College: An Elegy

Brain fried on the same skillet
that leaves both eggs and seniors scrambled,
ambling from bar-wench to bookworm,
from drink to drivel, trying to make some sense of a
four-year period that gave as many mental cramps as
circular songs of minstrel cycles flushed down our
throats by the ministers of culture until we enjoyed it:
the Hymn to Demeter, Beethoven’s Fifth
birthday party (followed promptly by his McKinsey interview).
So in the spirit of shedding our ovarian past and
walking on the fragile eggshells of mixed metaphors: Muses,
grant me genius and plagiarism, the fruits of bruises,
and the wisdom to tell the difference, if there is one.

Odysseus, né Embryo, set out to write the modern epic, fleeing
dactylic, old-world incubators—Ithaka, Hannover, Cambridgeshire—
for a city forced into daytime dreaming on account of never sleeping.
Psych 101. Erikson says we were
somewhere in between in utero and in love, still taking cues from
Disney movies and Hercules, navigating
Intimacy and Isolation like choosing between John Jay and Carman
would decide the fate of the Trojan War.
And speaking of condoms: Genesis
or new student orientation, also known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,
and the four-year hangover that follows. Comedy, tragedy,
crime, punishment, pride, prejudice, confessions (half Augustine,
half teenage-drama-queen).
This just in: Two Hundred Lines into the Aeneid, Misguided Youngsters
Find Groundless Feeling of Intellectual Confidence.

Sophomore slump or avian flu or Dante’s inferno, consisting of
ex-girlfriends, midterms, and Cartesian crises.
(Watch me sprinkle liberally the names of famous people!)
There’s a circle of hell reserved
for the pretentious, and I’m sitting in Satan’s sandbox
scribing arcs (and ovals) around myself, hissing 
in the bifurcated tongue of a snake in paradise,
sucking on its rattle like a thumb.
Here we were tilting at windmills only to find
fossil fuels and that the turbines would have poached birds learning how to fly.
But stem cells differentiate
over hard
times, and in the lags and valleys, hearts and brains are made, so it’s OK.

Third year, a fleeting sense of competence and belonging. 
A renaissance. Another birth.
Now I understand the Ninja Turtles coming forth from shells to
liberate some poor figure from his marble womb. David was
the offspring of offspring just like us, and we
also carved characters from marbles and jacks.
On a sunny day the steps are crawling with little Alma Maters and Thinkers,
the Florentine hatchlings of the perennial, born-again wisdom, and I had forgotten that
the world is vast and wonderful and ovular, and maybe I’ll study abroad and visit
Mother Europe to spot Easter eggs in the Last Supper
or find some chick who chirps like me.
Shakespeare the silver-tongued sperm squirms to fertilize society,
and we’re still hung up on finding something to pad our résumés,
soften the descent of caviar or the decline of Western Civ.
Well, guys, the Age of Reason is here—
You get enlightenment and you get enlightenment and you get enlightenment!
And although the Buddha (or Kant or Bollinger) probably 
wouldn’t admit it, the moment of orgasm is the perfect time for meditation,
for we have earned the right to loaf about and celebrate ourselves,
the dung beetles of free, or at least student-discount, verse.
Finally impressions and expressions of starry nights on steps and primal
screams leave us with the cool poise of awakened beings. I hope.

Act Four: Chickens.
“I need a job,” clucks Søren, pecking a cross out of wood and vaguely trembling,
“Quit whining,” crows a cocky Friedrich, getting
beak from some Kentucky Fried bird.
Enter Modern Man, stage right, imposing a rectangular prism on an apple core.
A discontented civilization grown in a petri dish is confused about itself,
forcing Picasso to etch his profile, head-on, into a broken mirror.
Dalí and Einstein team up to demonstrate the floppiness of time.
World Wars. Crush parties.
Enter Postmodern Man. Staged. Right?
The test-tube generation emerges from a dirty pond
demanding paid internships and casual hookups. 
In my final semester I develop a frantic desire to chronicle my experience
in the style of paint flicked onto a canvas and bicycled over and over and over easy.
Our favorite roosters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Are Dead,
but we stay sunny-side up remembering that Ithaka is Penelope,
and that we’ve seen these Hudson shores before.

So to the fools who worry—
remember that for hardships we have
spaceships or, even better, friendships that
are unconfined by the expanding cellophane mirage of the universe.
And for failure and boredom we have the benedict of
unadulterated wonder, reinventing itself 
in cracks on the shells of newborn minds,
graduating from cylinders to spheres.
Behold the human condition strutting its hour on the stage:
An idiot can’t tell a tale without breaking a leg,
and God can’t make an omelette till he breaks a fucking egg.

©T.S. Eliot, il miglior fabbro

Jake Goldwasser is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. Thinking Twice runs alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Admirer posted on

Brilliant and Hilarious as usual Jacob

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Damn posted on

Go Edgemont!

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Anonymous posted on

This poem is genius. I say this with all my heart.

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