Congratulations on Tenure, Dear Robert

Micheline Maylor


……….I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
……….From long French windows at a provincial town,
……….The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
……….In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
………………………………….– Philip Larkin.

Dear Robert, I’m glad you feel satisfied with your work. Since
graduating I’ve held five jobs, at once, of course you know that.
No reason you shouldn’t be happy with your tenure promotion.
I know I’ve made you feel uncomfortable with my whinging
about working 80 hours a week for little pay and no health coverage.
My life has changed very little since we started. When I look back,
I still make the same wage as an undergrad. I’m fifty years old
and not eligible for a mortgage, but I suppose that’s nothing much.
Just one less slave to the machine. One less servant to the man.
I listen to the money singing. It’s like looking down a hall

of closed doors. A door! An office! That’s some reward, Robert!
That should be enough, shouldn’t it? Never-mind the fancy presse
coffee machine in the staff lounge! I fucked this up myself, you know.
I could have gone to law school. But it was such a bore, those logic
puzzles and insufficient arguments billed in six minute increments.
I should have accepted the invitation to the University of Las Vegas.
I should have been less self-conscious. I was not enough impressed
with myself, you see. I’m shocked the whole plan didn’t work out.
Have you ever lived with that sort of disappointment, Robert?
It’s like looking up at the long French windows from a provincial town.

It makes me angry. Everything about this institution infuriates! Indignities
planned by budget makers, unkind, and certain to release themselves
from financial entrapment, loading up class sizes. Damn humanity
and civility, damn the students. More sessionals clamour this way,
a new batch just graduated with hopeful resumes, replacements for
the burnt out. So let cynicism burn, dear Robert. I don’t blame you,
your turned back at the Christmas party. Say hello to your (ex-student,
yes?) wife. I have forgotten her name. This is my first poem, too much
infused with sorrow. I light no lamps with my youth, or my dreams
fallen in the slums, the canal, and the churches, ornate and mad.

When I come to work to mark papers on wet Sunday afternoons,
my worries find perspective. It is all encompassing and vulnerable,
my age, and place in this institution. I’m aware of my own transience,
of my own simple, bottom-line worth. If I stay undervalued here for thirty
years. . . But, you will not have to feel this tightness in your chest, Robert.
I, too, prefer cake to that sort of uncomfortable inequity. Let me eat.
I’m still at my desk this evening. Don’t take me to dinner. Don’t worry
about my health. Things might take a turn. I’m very happy and content
teaching this seasonal course yet again. It has a Sisyphean rhythm.
This semester is rolling, Robert, up to the evening sun. It is intensely sad.