I finished my degree, found a teaching post
at a good university, my chairman, a tall, broad
Iowa-bred guy of sixty with big hands, big feet,
Told big stories about flying in the bombing raids
On Dresden during the war. He seemed kind,
Jovial, devoted to the work.
He made sure I met all the right people at conferences,
encouraged me to publish more, he raved
in his observation reports about my classes.
He shared details of his
grown children’s good news, he praised his wife.
But one late afternoon in his office, when everyone else
Had gone home, when we were talking about plans
For summer school courses, when we had finished
Talking, when I had glanced at the bits of peanut shells
And husks on his desk, he suddenly rose from his chair,
The heavy green metal desk no longer between us,
Came at me fast, a strong arm swept around me, he
Began to pull me close. He said he’d
“earned the right to do this.” Stunned,
I leaned away, he pulled me in tighter. I ducked out
of this bear’s embrace, grabbed
my coat and book bag, ran upstairs to the lobby,
my heart thumping. The night custodian
slowly pushed his wide dust mop across the floor.
Shy, a man of few words, he smiled weakly at me,
Told me it was time to go home, his usual farewell.
When I got to my car my hand shook
as I tried the key in the ignition switch.
I didn’t tell anyone for years.
Yes, yes, my mother schooled me well,
said if this ever happens,
Kick him in the privates, or use
Your knee to the groin—as hard as you can.
I trusted this oaf, mistook him for a mentor.
Now I see it was all training me for that moment,
when students had disappeared to their dorms,
Faculty had packed up their lecture notes, headed home.
He had handled me as he would a feral cat,
slowly brought from the wild into his sphere of influence
With bits of food, kind words, shelter from weather.
It’s been decades. He’s dead now, or
I’d have a few words with that
Reprinted from Bad Hombres and Nasty Women, The Raving Press, 2017