At the spring quarter composition meeting,
my male colleague runs up to the board
and writes the word,
and then explains that the essay
in the Western tradition is phallic
with its thesis sticking up right there
at the bottom of the introduction.
He says we should tell our students this
so they know the tradition they’re writing in.
I raise my hand and wait for a long time
to be called on and when I am,
the Director of Composition apologizes,
and I say,
It’s no problem, I’ve just been
waiting patiently like a woman,
which I thought would draw a laugh,
but apparently, there are some things
about which we should be honest,
and others we shouldn’t.
I say I am not going to tell my students that
and then ask them to follow the rules
we just questioned. Why not say
the main idea can be arrived at?
Or maybe there is no main idea?
Maybe there are so many little ideas
sticking out like curls that won’t be
brushed down. I know you can’t brush curls—
doesn’t everyone who has them?
You have to use leave-in conditioner
and product and scrunch them
and then try not to touch them
or they will break and turn to frizz
and then where will you be?
All week now, I’ve been thinking of this word,
Phallogocentric, which my friend said
Derrida invented and Wikipedia says
is a portmanteau, which I guess
is a blending of two words
but which I thought was a suitcase.
I love suitcases. I love the satiny lining
and the clasps and how they make me think
of trains and steam and hoop skirts
and top hats. How did I get here?
Does it matter? Will I arrive?
I don’t know but out the window
voila! the whole French countryside
that Derrida once flew past while he thought
about masculinity and language.
Sometimes I think about dying
and what I see is the white sheet
my boyfriend and I washed
and draped over our balcony in Nice.
We left it there to dry and walked
through the city and ate chocolate,
and climbed up the hill and looked out over
the Mediterranean, which is so many shades
of blue and green you can’t imagine,
and he smoked a pipe, which I think
made him feel more like a man,
something I couldn’t say then
but I could now if I could find him.
Would he laugh? Would he remember
how when we got back, the sheet was dry
and perfectly white and looked like
nothing had happened?
from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Laura Read: “This poem was inspired by a real experience I had at a department meeting at the college where I work. I do want to note that the male colleague to whom I refer in the poem is very kind. He is not the villain of the poem. The villain is, in this case and almost always, the patriarchy, but the poem would like me to ask, ‘Does there have to be a villain?’” ( web)