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—
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.