The school day started with a fire in the student restroom. The boy I was escorting said, “I’m not going in there,” so I went in there and found it empty of students. Burning was a plastic wastebasket in the corner. The flames were disappointingly feeble but smoke was filling the room and pouring into the hall. I pulled the wastebasket to the sink and threw water into it with my cupped hand. Left on the bottom was a soggy black mess of semi-molten plastic. I briefed the vice principal and returned to the classroom, though I still needed to use the restroom.
I had brought with me to school a poetry anthology I’m reviewing, and spent odd moments grazing around in it, concentrating on poets whose work I don’t know well. Among them was Katherine Philips (1632-1664), most of whose poems were addressed to “Lucasia” -- in fact, her friend Ann Owen. Included in the anthology is “To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship,” which, after the restroom adventure, seemed appropriately smoldering. The final stanza reads:
“Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.”
Fire (as ardor, combustion, inspiration) is an unacknowledged theme of the anthology, as I suppose it is generally in poetry. Next I found “Bethsabe’s Song” by George Peele (1556-1596), from a verse tragedy, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe (1599). I particularly like this couplet:
“Shadow, my sweet nurse, keep me from burning,
Make not my glad cause cause of mourning.”
(Spell-check, of course, objects to “cause cause.”) In the afternoon I accompanied another student to chemistry class, where I learned the word stoichiometry and found these sentences defining “limiting reactant” on the board: “The reactant in a chemical reaction that limits the amount of products that can be formed. The reaction will stop when all of the limiting reactant is consumed.” To illustrate this point, the teacher poured three fingers of light-green ethanol into a beaker and put a match to it. The resulting flame was pale blue and, from a distance, almost invisible. She tipped the beaker and the flames grew higher and turned orange. “Oxygen is the limiting reactant,” she said.
The boy sitting at the next desk assured me the fire in the restroom started when a kid smoking a joint thought he was about to be caught, and in a panic threw it in the wastebasket.