History Lesson

John Monagle


I wrote the last words of his lecture
in my notebook. He asked
if there were any questions. I wanted
to ask for his interpretation of the century
that passed days ago. But I knew
he couldn’t answer in the two minutes
left in class. He opened the essay book
containing Letter from Birmingham Jail.

I had my volume opened to the pages
But did not read along. I thought
I could gather the meaning
by merely keeping my eyes
in the middle of the letter.
I did not sit back and read
the whole page. His voice wafted away.
When the professor finished,
he quickly left the classroom
as if he knew what was coming.

My classmates might have asked me
for answers, I’ve always had in the past.
I closed the book, feeling exposed
as I did not have any then.
Though dismissed we could not leave,
snow drifts trapped us in the building.
We wondered dark hallways,
glancing at the white outside.
I kept myself from classmates.
I aimlessly walked before I went to find
the professor. But he vacated the building,
leaving no footprints in the snow.




A recent Jack Straw Writer’s Resident and MFA graduate at the University of Washington, Corbin Louis is a Seattle native making work out of a legacy of grunge and rain and illness. Each piece serves as a form of sublimation, transforming dysfunction into arrangements of self-reflection and cultural critique. Corbin’s goal as an artist is to garner awareness and support around mental illness by creating pieces that shriek for understanding, and he has been published by Best American Experimental Writing, Random Sample Review, Visible Poetry Project and others.