M-, then.

When we met, he stood so close to the faculty lunch table that I had to look straight up him, as one might look up the contours of an overhanging cliff. Which meant he had to look straight down at me as one might look over the edge of that cliff. May I also report this of my perspective? My colleague folded his underwear over the waistband of his dress pants for Jesus only knows what reason. And his trousers were bunched in a panic of fabric squeezing itself out of the clasp of his belt buckle.

He was being dismissed from Malaiseville U. for making certain undisclosed impositions on students. He was dilating his problems by writing his students to ask for Christian forgiveness over any misunderstandings about any perceived impositions. In attempts to deliver the letters, he followed his students in the afternoon dark of winter to dorm lobby, to parking lot, to cereal aisle, to coat check room. He found them in the coffee shop or the pizza place and stood explaining himself in such a way that they had to stream around him, as if they were the fish and he were the refrigerator that had dropped from the sky into their creek.  

Where were his friends in the department? This is the question he begged of me when we met, without either of us confronting where I actually was. I suppose he thought I was at least there, across the table, which must have been somewhere for him. But here’s how I was there: floating and floating away from him with every meeting and with every piece of bad news I gathered about him. There I was in the ascendant stretch of my career, after all, and with vain ideas of why I was rising and why he wasn’t.

To my former colleague, M-, of the faulty zipper that left the fly parted open Napoleonically. Of the underwear band with the yellow and black dashes. Of the dandruff on the tinted glasses, of the clasped hands and the tears of frustration. Of the fingernails bitten to the bloody quicks. Of the carpal tunnel brace like a left-handed bowler. Of the stress-fracture boot and the mother sitting outside the classroom in Milner Hall, waiting for the son to finish teaching his class, to drive the two of you back home.  

I of the new Ph.D.

I of the tenure track.

I of the corduroy jackets and the four-in-hand knots.

I of the pressed khakis.

I of the shapely wife and the photogenic first child.

Dear M-: You and I now remind me of a joke. Man falling to earth asks man rising from earth, You know anything about opening a parachute? Man rising says back, You know anything about lighting a grill?

I think about us often, M-. You dropping, heavy as a barrel, and me, on my way up, not realizing I’d return falling awkwardly too.

Bird Report

(1) Goldfinch swoops to perch on a coneflower in my garden. The slight, iambic lilt that its weightless landing produces. Bird and flower sway like __________.

(2) Bachelorette cardinal in the mulberry tree. Action in those branches has been over for a few weeks. No more berries, babe. The party’s moved on.