The Almost Success of J. Alfred Prufrock - Elaine Dai

Let us begin then, you and I,

When morning is ripe and ready,

And our head and thoughts beat steady.

Let us sort out this life of mine

From the fragments of thought swirling about my mind

Like the swirls of milk spinning in my cup

Turning and turning until they are swallowed up

Blending with the darker coffee, lost from sight

Diluted, diffused, disoriented

Like me.

But come, let’s sit

And work through this bit by bit.


On the wall the hands tick away

The fleeting minutes of my day.


In this class,

Oh, this class...

This class is not for me,

Though I am in it,

Standing by the desk, about to sit

I have pen and paper and text laid out

And I assure you I can tell you all about

Last night’s reading

And do fine on the quiz without cheating.


So why, oh why, even after all my nights spent

Poring over texts, hunched over and bent

Appreciating themes and symbols, plot and detail,

Circling and starring and bracketing without fail,

Why, when come class, when the discussion spirals on and on

Do I suddenly find that my voice is gone?


On the wall the hands tick away

The fleeting minutes of my day.


Outside the snow falls gently, slowly coating the ground,

But here, inside, the room is alive and abuzz with sound.

Voices, loud and clear,

Sounds not unfamiliar to my ear,

Surround me as I sit and stir my milk-laced coffee

Nodding here and there,

Appreciating the forum of thought before me

And trembling inside, excited.

I take small sips of my drink,

Sit back to watch and listen and think

But impatience plagues me;

I want to speak.


But dare I?

Dare I open myself to the world?


To contribute, or not contribute

That is the question

Every second that passes marks my cowardice

My incompetence

My fear.


This is the real me.


No, I can change, today

Today will be the day I speak

I can feel it already, a streak

Of blood-pounding courage

A shot of adrenaline, a flush to my face.

And the topic at hand—I know this!

I can already feel my thoughts transforming into words,

Words which dance at the tip of my tongue, wonderful words

That tumble and turn my thoughts to speech.

Jaw set, chin up, I open my mouth

And am cut off.                  


A classmate ejects a comment

—the comment I wanted to make—

And just like that my chance, my beautiful, wondrous moment


Evaporated into air.


The period ends, but I,

I, smiling sadly at my ideas, my spirit broken,

I remain unspoken.