It was orientation week, at my highbrow college
where chalky pedagogues would stuff us with knowledge–
but first, a time to get to know each other;
we’d take a bus trip, all of us together!
and ask questions about majors, sisters and brothers
then walk the dunes in the early fall weather.
I was seated behind a girl named Sharon
with coal black hair that she chose to wear in
a bohemian bun, held tight by tortoise shell clip.
She turned and took me in with a look
that was seductive and arch, knowing and hip,
and put down her Marx or Freudian book.
She introduced herself and then she queried
“Where are you from?” and I said “Missouri,”
except that I pronounced it in my native tongue
as people from the southern and the western parts will:
“Mizzuruh,” I said, and as if she were stung
she screamed, then laughed, and finally was still.
“That is so charming!” she loudly exclaimed,
she was off to the races, I couldn’t explain.
“Do you always wear red-checked lumberjack shirts?
and keep straw or toothpicks ‘tween your teeth?”
I hesitated to correct her, bit my tongue till it hurt,
but within myself I started to seethe.
I decided I’d try to string her along,
and see if she’d buy my dance and song.
“Are you first to go to college in your family?”
she asked, and I decided to take the bait.
“I’m the first to graduate,” I noted happily,
“from pre-school, kindergarten and also grade eight.”
“Oh dear,” she exclaimed, “you’re so—so rural!”
she said with an emphasis that might have been plural.
“Your home—does it have indoor plumbing?
or must you repair to a bare, stinking outhouse?”
she said with a frisson, as if she were slumming.
and I was overcome and began to play head louse.
“What is this ‘indoors’ of which you speak?
Is it something we’ll see after orientation week?”
She recoiled in horror, aghast at my plight,
I was a Walker Evans photo she’d seen in a book,
Left behind by civilization’s march towards the light,
She rated me lower than a Seacaucus mook.
“Where are you from?” I finally rejoined,
I’d decided I’d rather stay out of her loins,
“I’m from Tenafly, a ‘burb of New York City.”
“Is that,” I said, “anywhere near Paramus?”
“Why do you ask?” she said with some pity.
“I used to watch ‘Make That Spare’ in pajamas.”
Moral: You’re only as sophisticated as somebody else thinks you are.