Reviewed by Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 1963-65)
Taking a lazy walk in the park, I stopped and observed a crystal clear pond, the sun reflecting brightly off the smooth surface. When my friend asked me to describe the pond, I paused at each of his questions. What was the shape of the pond? Rectangular, round, oblong, diamond? How about the shore line? Sandy or rocky? White or tan? Were there fish in the pond? How about the . . .
“Alright, already,” I interrupted. I’ll go back for a second reading.
This is how I reacted to Earl Carlton Huband’s new chapbook, The Innocence of Education. My academically-trained eyes failed to discover the pure poetry of his book.
Deposited in a remote fishing village in the Sultanate of Oman, Huband must shift gears from the freeways and free-ways of Western culture to a lifestyle foreign to his own (as most PCVs are). And his poems describe without judgment his innocence and evolution toward a heartfelt admiration for his Muslim students and fellow teachers.
His concluding poem, “The Village Doctor Opens a Heart,” illustrates Huband’s subtle, but solid, understanding of the fellowship and humanity of human life. Among his duties in the village was to assist at his local clinic. When a headmistress, who believes she has heart problems, complains of chest pains, he begins with “gently” listening to her heart with his stethoscope, “to her chest” and to her back” and asks “Does it hurt here? ” “No.” “Here?” “No.” “Here?” “No.”
. . . in exasperation,
I placed the end of my stethoscope
on the wall behind her. “Here?” “Yes! Yes!”
After she leaves
. . . I began to think
about the walls, to think of our lives
here in this village, in this clinic,
the two of us strangers in this land,
about her heart. And about my heart.
And that about wraps up what life is all about. About our Peace Corps mission: to bring us closer together in acceptance of and empathy for the rest of world. All the other poems lead to the enlightenment of this poem. Our differences are mostly superficial, and usually an adaption to our environment. Our life today, wherever, depends largely on our forefathers and mothers’ adjustment to what nature offers. But the value of life itself is universally shared by all.
After surviving the beginning of a civil war in Nigeria and a paranoid Chinese government a year after the Tiananmen Square uprising, reviewer Tony Zurlo settled down to a comparatively safe life as a college professor in Texas. Now, after eight years of retirement, Tony is wondering what happened to the wealth and fame promised in life. However, realizing his lack of genius and talent, Tony has achieved just enough in writing and education that he appreciates how remarkable, but incomprehensible, life is. So in old age, Tony scribbles a poem, now and then, and with great effort honks a tune or two on the saxophone hoping to back up Chuck Berry or Ray Charles in the great hereafter.