Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Last Wednesday


it starts at maybe 2 a.m. or that's when i'm aware of it
i smell new carpet and fresh paint but none of these is new in this room
bed feels unfamiliar now too cold too hot too hard too soft
the pillow presses in my face with several earths of gravity
i test my limbs which move and sense as well as I can tell for now
i call out i'm in trouble here then hear what can I do for you
i think just get the biggest wrench i own and swing it true 
and knock me out but say i don't know and hear bucket 
diphenhydramine but probably it's not a stroke
i sleep in twenty minute spurts and after caffeine shower it is
concentrated in a hemisphere behind my left eyeball so
was it stress of yesterday or what is coming next that must have
brought this on but either way i'll take it make it useful make it work


we stand in line and someone says you look good but it's just a lie
we take our seats and now the trick is find distracton anywhere
thy rod and staff may comfort me at some point later not for now
my eye offends me like to pluck it out with like a grapefruit spoon
and would the handle of this spoon be decorated like that cross 
atop the flag behind which hangs the tapestry above which spans 
the vaulted ceiling i've seen trusses like these on the footbridge that i walked
across where rails were slipped last night and when i heard i knew right where 
they spoke of as i'd crossed that bridge so many times as recently 
as almost thirty years ago that would have been around the time we first met  
but i can't deal with that now back to this building trusses set into 
these walls in which are set these stained glass windows several 
hues of reds and blues and others do they melt at different 
temperatures i could look that up but i already know the heart melts 
where mine is between normal room and body temperature 
i find composure lost and dripping down my suit coat who does this 
who comes so unprepared i was supposed to be here for everyone else 
instead dependent on a tissue kindly offered which i use 
then twist and clutch like rosary beads until it's time for us to go


i pause before your door and eye the frame where i would
sometimes slouch and chew the fat awhile my coffee growing tepid then
another voice is asking is there any news about who's
going to get his office and i suddenly find clarity 
oh you didn't know it's yours i'll just call maintenance they'll cut a key 
but that will take about a week or you could call his family 
i'm sure his key was found amongst his personal effects but 
why wait even that long i'll just get my master key and let you in so 
you can measure for new drapes and pick your color scheme he
doesn't answer or perhaps i'm spontaneously selectively 
unhearing we slink separate ways i down six flights and out the door 
across the lot with all the better cars then i'm in mine again
my steel cocoon in which i lose my shit discreetly and discretely
at red lights and on long straightaways till i get home
i pour the last two fingers of my favorite bottle one for me and 
one for you i knew you liked brunello but did you like scotch
i never knew you kept the private from the public i am
kind of like that too but now i can't excuse procrastinating
as i have with everybody you were just a few years senior but
far beyond that wiser so much have i left to learn from you
i sit and think and sip and drink my stink eye drips and blinks till 
sounder mind returns today


  1. This knocked me on my heels. So sorry for your loss, OPH.

  2. Wow. I, too, am sorry. It's wonderful to have good colleagues, but (like so many other things in life) that also leaves us vulnerable to the pain of losing them.

    I love "you kept the private from the public i am/kind of like that too" and "los[ing] my shit discreetly and discretely." Those resonate with me.

  3. Wishing you all the best, OPH.

  4. Glad I checked "Older Posts." Wow. This is wrenching. You have put into words things I have felt and made them into art. The migraine; what the mind does during a funeral; the empty space being filled too soon. You're brilliant. I'm so sorry for your loss and hope that writing this helped you.

    1. I should know better than to comment before refreshing a page that's been growing stale on a computer I haven't used in several hours or days. I didn't see your comment till just now, PG. Thank you for your kind wishes. I greatly appreciate your compliment, but perhaps we can agree that I might also be just a hack who sometimes gets it right and has the good fortune to be too lazy to publish the bulk of the crap I might produce if I weren't already too lazy to commit it to tangible form.

      Yes, writing it did help me. Probably posting it helped, too. To make it presentable to others, I had to impose some order on it -- what little order there is -- and that helped order my thoughts, which were still badly disheveled. This discussion also helps in the ordering of things.

      I had almost all of the piece in my head before it went onto "paper", and although I did scan it a few times before posting and tweaked it here and there each time, I tried to call it quits before I crossed the line into overworking it. I now see that some bits never made it through the brain-finger interface -- your mention of the space filled too soon brought one to mind.

      In answering the colleague in the hallway, I'd intended to note how my voice became calm and "sincere" complete with quote marks, which would have been the only punctuation in the piece. The significance (and why I mention it now) is that I actually didn't know who gets the office, but instead of simply giving him the stink eye or replying, "dude, WTF" or "too soon, bro", I apparently needed him to learn something and to suffer the training a little. In retrospect, it was at once cruel and charitable.

      I do have a master key and input into who gets the office, but it is still too soon to discuss the matter. I don't know if anyone's been in the room since its former tenant shut the door, to which some students have taped notes over the last few days. I can barely look at them, much less even think to read them -- they aren't for me, anyway.

  5. Thank you all for your kind words and well wishes. I almost didn't go through with posting this, as I feared I was being narcissistic. On the other hand, I don't think my experience was unique, and I have often benefitted when the words of others gave voice to feelings I was still trying to fathom.

    It is part of the misery of our careers that we will lose colleagues, and the depth of the personal connection we had with them can become increasingly apparent over the days after their departure. As Cassandra notes, working with good people makes us vulnerable, but I don't think I'd want a personal or professional life void of that vulnerability.

    He was not in my department, but we had worked together on quite a few commitees and some interdisciplinary courses. His departure leaves a complicated set of holes to fill. I am ashamed of how insufficiently I have attended to members of his department who were surely closer to him than I was. Maybe I'm in a better position to fix that now.

    He was indeed a good colleague. He had weaknesses as we all do, but his strengths were in being both an example of and advocate for innovation and professional development. He was quite friendly with the higher ups, which led some colleagues to suspect him, but in conflicts between admin and faculty, he almost always took the faculty's side.

    He was also an advocate for students, but not to the point of relaxing standards or enabling chronic snowflakery. His position was that we should help them help themselves, recognizing that many of them now come to us without having developed the tools to manage their own growth, but also that we can't fix them all.

    There's talk of some kind of scholarship named in his honor. I think I'm in a position to take on some of his role outside the classroom; good ideas should not die with their inventor. My institution, and I think the world at large, was made better by his having been a part of it.

    1. That's quite a tribute. It sounds like he got several of the balancing acts that come with the current higher ed landscape right (or as right as anyone can get them). I hope you can, indeed, carry forward some of his work. That will be a good way of keeping his memory.