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She is matching professors with classes for next year.
That is what department heads do on a winter evening,
Vivaldi playing his neat solutions in the air.

It is musical chairs with plums and lemons,
all the names trying to sit on the same plum
and staining their shorts in a most undignified way.

They rise warily, sponge themselves off, point and bicker,
shift liked magnets caught in mutual attitudes of antipathy.
There are unruly forces at work.  Tremendous sparks

fly from the paper before her.  Professor A is deeply
insulted by the suggestion that one of his experience
should be asked to teach composition to the freshmen.

Professor B has carefully noted who in the past
has been granted the choice honors sections;
clearly, it is his turn.  Professor C is fine about teaching

at eight o’clock—but she is just fooling!
Professor D would like to teach an overload, just
this once, until he pays for the remodel on his home.

He should be out of debt by Christmas.  Yes, he is sure of it.
He would be happy to take an extra section of comp—just
as a matter of service, of course.  It is best, he says,

for the students to learn collaboratively by grading
one another’s papers.  Professor F sees no great need
to trouble the chair with his request, but the waiting list

for media studies last fall would seem to warrant
multiple sections.  He is only thinking of the many,
many distraught seniors that he will have to turn away.

There are other institutions, he says, that are sensitive
to student needs.  Sooner or later all of the names fall in line
beside the rickety column of courses.  They are trembling

with anger, crooning their lonely syllabi.  Their voices rise
and rise and rise in an unwitting harmony, a blossoming
of self-respect, the edible fruit of old knowledge.

Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collections of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009) and Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). He is also the co-editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).

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  1. Jeremy #
    December 29, 2013

    Unfortunately, my school had the added complication of a professor passing away on Christmas afternoon.

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