Peter Neil Carroll
Last Lecture

Film and history, my last lecture approaches though
there’s no reason to call it the last, except for my age
and apprehension. I could repeat it next year, surely
I can, but should I? Why this ambivalence?

Much has changed; movies, audience, my students.
I’ve learned the logic of rear-view mirrors, 50 years
stretches the gap between then and now, between
them and me. Some have seen their last screening.

One or two constants remain — chickens and eggs —
why do they appear in almost every American movie?
Scrambled eggs for breakfast, fried chicken for lunch;
walking on eggshells, chickenshit ideas, eggheads.

No one believes me but there they are — written by
screenwriters, items on Hollywood menus, symbols
of dare: Paul Newman’s Bet you can’t eat 50 eggs! or
James Dean, the rebel yelling Don’t call me chicken.

Now I urge this last class to remember young Beneatha
in Raisin in the Sun. She demands a world of choice,
wants to be a doctor, but her brother Sidney Poitier
tells her to become a nurse or get married or shut up.

In movies, women know things men know nothing of.
Plots about manhood wind up being about mothers,
sisters, wives. Men go to war, come home with PTSD,
bewildered by emotions they lack and women provide.

Pay attention, I plead — I won’t be here to remind you —
the movies are real life. We are all Beneathas or Bogarts
or Brando mumbling, ‘I could have been a contender.’
Even if the end seems fated, they refuse to stop, as do I.

Movies claim the last word, the last kiss, the last laugh.
Actors who are stand-ins for the rest of us speak again,
arise and insist it’s not too late to start over. Is it ever?
Let the credits roll, lights dim, I see my screen is fading.