Elegy for Bexley Hall
‘we know this is difficult and regret putting this on you during finals’
“no more can you teach stone to swim
can you teach a lawful man to breathe”
she kicked the gate and black paint flaked off
revealing a deeply burnt-in rust
the sun wove threads of light through a dogwood tree i loved
it was the spirit of that great brick hall we shared, our home.
she kicked off more paint and scratched at the rust with her fingernail
“no,” i said. i scribbled out another line for a problem set.
i sat at the picnic table in the courtyard, looking up at her scratching the massive iron gate
which separated us from mass ave and the pedestrian zoo which framed us
“we’re a concrete. you’re mixed and cast, and the only way to change shape is to crumble.”
she lit a cigarette and sat down on a nearby bench, opening her laptop
to turn on buttrock, a forbidden speaker concealed in an AC unit
through which we blasted punk and classic rock and the calls of mating whales
either for our enjoyment or simply to harass anyone tight enough to be harassed
i looked up at her, and back down.
i was stuck and so i pulled out another sheet to work in another direction.
she took a long drag and exhaled a giant plume of acrid smoke up into the branches of the dogwood.
fall is the only nice chunk of the school year.
the dogwood sang on soft boston nights
sang pure notes to a quiet courtyard
i some nights, in spite of work, took a bench and listened
i crumbled. not often, but sometimes i crumbled
“when’s it due?”
she took another puff and switched from music to porn
scaring off a tourist who stepped into the courtyard to photograph us.
i scratched away, the problem admitting to a new approach.
once a year we plastered the walls of MIT with rude posters
advertising our yearly hellbent drug-fueled bash, beast roast,
accruing absurd fines we never payed.
from the top the fingers would point, down and down
until they fell upon our brave, grey housemaster,
as we had no government
no head to blame we kept them
and always skirted the axe
which kept us sharp
others crumbled too and when they did,
when they cracked and shifted under the weight
under the stress of time and genuine scrutiny
and changed shape, violently
there were always members to support them
always many hands to pull them into form
in our time bexley marked a century
it saw world wars. it saw great fights for liberty.
it housed a drug factory. it was source and sink.
it nurtured ideas that shook people, and shook them hard,
unpopular ideas, ideas that were as needed as feared.
i heard a story from professor sussman about the proliferation of administration at mit.
once upon a time, all the administrivial tasks that glued together the institute were carried out by faculty, who didn’t want to do those tasks.
the infinite, the main and very long corridor at tech, was packed with labs
except for one office in which the only non-faculty administrator worked,
the dean of student life, an apparently traditionally obnoxious asshole.
one lab remains on the infinite, amongst a den of deans and coordinators and secretaries,
one lab with glass walls and stacks of oscilloscopes that are always glowing spectacularly
and never measuring anything worth measuring
she went upstairs, leaving on buttrock a recitation of ginsberg’s america
as i wrapped up my solution and finished off a mug of cold tea.
cracks in the facade let rainwater seep through bexley’s double ply brick shell
eroding the mortar, compromising her structure
leaving no sign of distress on the inner walls, those blooming with paintings and graffiti, the colors of so many unhindered expressions
a salad of fuck you’s, irony, cocks, and masterworks.
the iron members of her windows turned to rust
straining the walls, shattering brick, leaving spiderweb cracks of relief
“a full repair, including an ADA-compliant elevator and restructured wheelchair-accessible rooms
would cost as much as a complete teardown and build.
we have to consider the best investment for mit.
we know this is difficult and regret putting this on you during finals.
we welcome your representatives to help us come to a decision on the future of the space.” - dean of student life
four empty meetings. no conversation. no exchange.
rust jacking, estimation, incognito, i jerk off,
liability, legalese, lyme disease, pset golf,
corporation, annihilation, public image, menstruation,
title nine, mental health, mickey mouse a tv station,
dime a dozen, bloody cousins, hot potato, toaster oven.
IHTFP, the kids say, and they scratch out their eyes
to make new ports for caffeine intake
and they go and go and they go
for science, knowledge, for truth
the golden fruit and great gift of mind
the driver of hand, and the soul dies
and the mind and the hand are lost, drowned, trampled, shot
in a great and furious rush, with marvelous expediency.
the dogwood flowered early but bore no seed.
then she was razed.
we were stones that swam.
Chris Sarabalis ’14, who lived in Bexley from 2010 until its closing, originally published this poem to Facebook on July 3.