Tuesday, April 14, 2009


There's a disproportionate pleasure, for me, in using the phrase "the local college" when I refer to the place where I work part-time (1/6 time, to be exact) as an administrator. Because it's a fairly well-known little college, terribly expensive and with fairly high standards for admission. Truthfully, the students are well-brought-up and intelligent, and the faculty and staff members are generally knowledgeable and pleasant people. But it does have something of a reputation, locally, at least, for being a place full of snobs. And they don't want me in their English department. So it's fun for me to refer to it as if it's some kind of community college.

Among the many people who have passed through the local college community, the poet Julianne Buchsbaum stood out for me as someone who didn't contribute to the snobbish reputation. Hired as a librarian, she also taught a creative writing class. She wrote the poem "Gamblers," which I was thinking of this morning, as rain beat on the roof and I got ready to commute to the second college where I work:

You doze in a castle of eggshells, Tartar,
while rain soaks the cornfields outside.
This is not about me; I have nothing to do with it.

Who are you, ruminating in the corner like that?
The bar is dark; it's time to go home.
Stop ransacking the past for what ruined you.

See, outside, how the sweet cicely holds
its tiny white umbrellas in the storm?
You thought you were safe here?

Alumroot blanches the roadside from here
to wherever you're going.
Nodules that no one but you knows are alive,

lives that are their own reason for being,
with the whiteness of what is thrown open
to the dead silence of the universe.

While someone faces the hazards of loving you,
the clouds overhead foam like boiling milk
and you turn solemn and cold and formal.

Somewhere the sea drags itself over the faces
of the drowned. Somewhere gamblers
are cutting their losses as another day slips by.

In some ways, I gambled and lost, hoping to find a professional life in this small town. But there are compensations. I savor the line "lives that are their own reason for being" along with my memories of people who have passed through the local college on their way to another place where they thought they would be safe.


Karen said...

Hear, hear.
I like the reminder that we're all gambling in our choices, making the best ones we can--but that our lives exist and have value regardless of the outcome of those choices.

Oh my. I sound as sleep-deprived as I am. I sound like a first-year undergrad taking an English course. Sorry, Professor!

So let me say, instead, that I love the acknowledgment that we are gamblers when we choose to love someone. I'm finding parenthood joyous, touching, and bloody terrifying--and my wee one can't move independently yet. Still, my heart walks around outside my body all day long, and it's a pretty frightening gamble. Paying off so far, though.

Jeanne said...

Karen, maybe since I've taught mostly first-year undergrads for the past 26 years, I love hearing that you got exactly what I was trying to say. And, of course, you're one of many we miss who have passed through here.

TexasRed said...

I made the gamble of moving to a small town for love last year. Working out well on the personal front so far, but still trying to sort out the best professional situation.

Here's hoping yours improves to something you feel like is a winning hand.

Jeanne said...

TexasRed, I don't think it's a coincidence that so many book bloggers are in the process of sorting out their professional situations.

lemming said...

Is that second sentence correct? I'm not sure about the because...

Without risks, there are no successes - and I speak as someone who has lost some significant gambles, but won some others.

Teena said...

This is kind of like how Georgia Tech is referred to as "North Avenue Trade School." I am sure the reputation in Atlanta for Tech students is heavy drinking weird engineers, instead of snobs.

This poem really makes me consider what safety means. "Oh, you thought you were safe here?"

We miss you too, Jeanne.

Jeanne said...

Lemming and Teena--yes, oh yes, exactly!

Karen said...

Teena is right; we do miss you, too. I miss your local college, however much I am becoming integrated into the fabric of my own.

(I am contributing a wire of brass or a ribbon of copper to the fabric, by the by.)

I suppose I also agree with Teena in that this poem brought to mind all too powerfully the realization-ha! you thought you were safe, but you are really still gambling, always. You just don't think of what or how you could lose.

Jeanne said...

...and if you don't stop ransacking the past, you can't always think of what you've won.