Thursday, October 27, 2011

Man with a Talking Problem

~for Scott Abbott
"Opinions were like kittens.
I was giving them away."

I knew a professor grown tired
Of profession who said, "The more
I profess, the further I get
From knowing what I'm professing.

Humans are beasts who secrete
This horrible, sticky substance
We like to call conversation,
Earth's nastiest ecosystem.

I explain myself to students
Who excuse themselves to me,
Then excuse myself to colleagues
Explaining their complaints to me.

No matter what excuse I make,
They make, you make, anyone makes,
It all adds up to more talking,
More lies, more severe, more sincere,

And this is true when we're silent
As well, when we read, when we write,
When we engage in productive
And scholarly activities

That form further conversations
About the nature of ourselves,
The world, the origins of talk,
Gods' endless apocalypti,

Particles exceeding the speed
Of rules we built to contain them,
Cryptographies, intentional
Or unforeseen, which we worry

For meanings we know they're hiding,
Like cats worrying catnip mice,
Until we're too proud and too bored
With the tatters of our efforts

And become strange and reclusive
By turns, and by turns even more
Loudly, bombastically verbose,
Trapdoor professors who burst out

Of rooms and meetings and hallways
To pounce on hapless passers-by
And harangue them with opinions
As I am haranguing you now,

Despite every voice in my head
(And there are wonderfully many,
Most of them rather unpleasant,
As are, I'm sure, a few of yours)

Begging me to cease and desist,
Reminding me I can only
Make matters worse or, worser, worst,
Me! The last teacher who should talk,

Catfish, hermit, antisocial
Social scientist, telling you
About too much talking, when I
Can't make myself available

For listening to anyone.
I study people, for their sake!
What kind of an ethnographer
Never keeps an open office?

Something must be terribly wrong
With any anthropologist
Who closes the door on colleagues
But wants a window on the sky.

No,  it's not just me and teachers.
Watch how administrators talk,
Mostly ex-professors, lawyers,
Or political appointees,

A few actual CEOs:
They sweep clouds of scat past their tracks
For a few years at each college,
Then they're gone to the next victim,

Leaving just enough of a wreck
For an heir to pretend to fix.
They play the world's easiest game
Of musical chairs, where no chairs

Are ever removed from the game,
Only occasional players.
Well, you know what I mean.
I'm old, or I feel old enough,

That I'm nothing more than dead wood,
A twisted, dried-out talking stick.
If I don't do something useful soon,
And by that I don't mean useful

To this school that will forget me
The moment I'm wheeled out the door,
I'm going to die without leaving
Any legacy to speak of.

I'm talking about cultural
Menopause here, pardon the term.
I'm talking about it instead
Of doing what I'd like to do,

Which would be nothing much at all,
Maybe a long walk at sunset
With no nagging mental chatter
About books, colleagues, or career.

You get me? Years I've lost talking,
And in the middle of all this
Talking, talking, talking, talking,
I realized, I can't feel my life."

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