The Assistant Professor's Nightmare

My niece's pre-lecture jitters reminded me of this poem by Ronald Wallace:

The Assistant Professor's Nightmare

I'm giving the Faulkner lecture as usual,

all the pencils nodding their heads

in astonishment: Wallace is brilliant,

Wallace is wise. My sure voice filling

their notebooks up when

back row, aisle three, Kevin McGann,

graduate teaching assistant, begins

to shake his ominous head. A white balloon

drifts out of his mouth, and oozes

to the front of the room: ridiculous,

it says, ridiculous. Suddenly confidence

slips out of my voice, sits down

in the front row, snoring.

My stomach and the room give out,

my small words stumbling on. Soon

all of the pencils are wagging their fingers,

shouting with their black tongues.

Two hundred points rise up at me

as I grow smaller and smaller, my thin

voice humming like a gnat. I look

for a safe way out of this, but

lost in grammatical confusion,

my sentence goes on and on

and I disappear in a flurry of notes,

my fury and my sound crossed out,

the room closed up like a book.

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