from The Teacher's Voice
1st Chapbook Contest Winner


Poems about the Professor Business
Mary Beth O'Connor








The Dean, An Introduction


You can tell that beneath his scrubby beard

the dean’s chin pulses itchy red.

The dean likes to stroke the stubble

while he runs his electric railroad trains.

In his basement with the curtains drawn,

he takes his Casey Jones striped cap

from its Christmas box

and places it at a rakish angle

atop his steel butch haircut,

wraps the red kerchief around his neck,

cracks his knuckles, splays his fingers

in a yoga stretch, and with reverence

flips the railway switch.


The engine emits its puff of smoke

exactly as it rounds hump one

of the figure eight layout just by

the rustic station in the pines--bliss!

almost as good as smoking.

His thoughts drift to the local pipe shop

with its sealed, humidified room

full of non-Cuban cigars.

He doesn’t realize how deeply

he’s inhaling basement air.


The dean hears his wife’s pink cadillac

swing into the smooth macadam drive.

He’s now caressing his wild eyebrow hair.

Wirier than the others, it curls up,

floats out—he likes to tug on it

with steady pressure, likes to feel

the little pain as he imagines the root of it

quivering in its socket
like a lone, brave blade of grass.





In the Corner


In his corner, the Dean is attended by his trainer—
the Provost—who throws a towel around his shoulders
and whispers orders in his ear.


In her corner, Acting Chair muses:


Being department chair


                                       is sort of like

when the government went to the Indians

and said, “Who is your chief?”

and they said, ‘Chief’?”

and the government said, “We need one person

to negotiate with—your official

so we can make deals

and give orders and hire and fire people.

And they said, “We make our decisions together,

there’s no chief, the elders—”

And the government interrupted and said,

“I here appoint you chief!”

and gave him an inbox and a secretary

and said “ready, on your mark…”

And the chief said “Mark?”

and the government shot off their gun

at the chief’s heels
to make him dance.







Round Three:  The Dean Gets Tough



The Dean Takes Me for a Ride



A fine spring morning—

budding trees, peaceful neighborhood,

Saturday bliss of late coffee on the porch

with a novel propped on sleepy knees...

Suddenly I hear the unmuffled

rumble and roar of a Harley

ripping up my quiet street, spewing fumes,

farting to a stop, no—a pause

before the black leather figure

revs one last time, then chokes it

and detaches himself, swinging

a black leather leg over the engine

to stand on the sidewalk and leer

through the tinted face mask.

More like Lucifer than James Dean,

though not as elegant as I imagine

the Dark Prince to be—more like

Darth Vader until the helmet comes off

to reveal—I knew it all along—

the Dean.


He beckoned to me with a finger to his lips

—odd gesture under the circumstances—

and I rose as if in a trance,

a somnambulist under the power

of this old carney with his tricks.

He handed me my own helmet,

and as I fumbled it on

he gestured toward the rear, as if

showing me to my seat at the opera.

As we sped off, I thought I heard him cackle.

Still, the feel of the smooth back

of his  jacket, the speed, the rushing air,

the quickly passing sights and scents—

well, it was thrilling

til my foot began to cramp

on its narrow metal rest.

I jabbed him with my chin but on he sped,

a monster dragging me to his lair.
I was completely at his mercy,

and I knew that he had none.


So I began to wail

an old Irish dirge, a funeral lament,

“keening” my father had called it

whenever I put my favorite folk singer

on the stereo back in the 60s.

Within seconds we slowed, stopped.

He shook me off the bike like a bug

and sped onward.

I hitched a ride back to town.


He made no mention of this excursion

at our last formal meeting in his office.

I hid the black helmet away in the cellar
from where I fear it may have disappeard.