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Inside Out, Forward Back

I could feel at home here I thought the Saturday morning

I ambled from the bus stop on Campus Drive

near Route 1 to the Mitchell Building.

White-colored brick Georgian halls like in Williamsburg

girded the grassy band of McKeldin Mall

in October’s chalky, friable light—

a cocoon where, becoming who I would be,

I could wrap myself in the history of ideas’

quaint costume, reflecting what made us who we are

to anyone paying attention.

Baltimore Ave. = US Route 1; the building to the right of Regents Dr. is the Mitchell Building

The foyer was still almost empty

and perfumed in cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice

from hot apple cider I tapped from an urn

beside others for coffee and tea on a table

to the left; in the room’s middle a stand

bore sheets of blank name tags with black markers,

and at a second stand on the right

I picked the English Department’s booklet from those

arrayed and thumbed its pulpy, recycled pages.

Unattributed, via Pixabay, Public Domain

Unattributed, via Pixabay, Public Domain

When I looked up, Audrey Morris’s tall frame

serendipitously greeted and gladdened me further.

We schmoozed about school and the literary magazine,

sipping cider, and wondered aloud, continually,

when someone from Admissions would turn up

to start the open house. Panning the room,

my eyes halted on a girl at its far end: auburn hair

fondling the shoulders of her white argyle sweater,

telling a twin brother in high pitch but firm timbre,

“This is a psychology study!

They want to see how long it will take us

to figure out what to do uninstructed.”

Lorri Lang, via Pixabay, Public Domain

Lorri Lang, via Pixabay, Public Domain

Typical floral-patterned vests and short-sleeved

paisleys of manifold blues were filling the foyer;

I took Audrey’s leave and began steering around

them to the redhead, but staff must have beckoned

from the corridor—the closest raced into it,

those closest to them hustled to follow, and before

I could cross the room I was caught

and carried by everyone flooding out.

When we thronged into the lecture hall I secured

the first empty seat on the bottom tier.

I expect height to incite vertigo, but as the presenter

apprised us the campus boasted its own ZIP Code

and while classes convened College Park trailed only

Baltimore as the state’s most peopled city, a disembodying

faintness fell on me, sweat prickled through pores all over,

and I cupped my hands to my mouth as my

stomach spasmed up only air.

Yinan Chen, via Pixabay, Public Domain

Yinan Chen, via Pixabay, Public Domain

That past summer,

I could long for faces like Audrey’s that three years

assured me I could enjoy fond response from;

I could make my intrepid way to points in the city,

a teacher or friend once conducting me;

I could swagger up to an interviewee or into

meetings confident in the clout of a newspaper’s name.

Next fall, though, would replay on a magnified scale

my plight on entering Roosevelt: drowning amid a

crush of peers who would flaunt their fashions, get drunk

and laid, train to chase money, to whom I could only

be a taciturn nerd whose beige cardigan sagged,

baggy, on his undersized body.

By the time I’d recognize friends with

greatness of soul, divergent goals would compel us

to part. Then my one-man melodrama would encore,

its stage swollen to the whole globe.

The queasiness receded

as the presenter finished and announced two ensuing

choices for sampling the college’s scholarship:

a talk upstairs on the fantastic imminent

craze of books read on hand-held machines

and, here, one on Aphra Behn. I didn’t see

Audrey in either the terraces of chairs

or the file of prospects about to migrate again.

A strong clear voice from above and behind

averred, “I’m not going to whatever

most people go to”; I turned and tilted my chin

to spot the girl from the outer room ensconced

in her student desk—white garb and red hair radiant

like England’s first Elizabeth enthroned.

William and Mary’s writer-spy captured my interest,

yet throughout I felt the gaze of the dream-queen

I’d never meet from the heights of the room

at the professor pass over my head.

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