In my record store days, so hard to forget the bad,
mostly race-related incidents back in the wild Midwest,
haunting me when I walk in White culture zones traveling now,
my Caucasian half not so easy to see as my Asian.
And this incident, a race-related one? I don’t know,
my second semester in graduate school,
Madison, Wisconsin, the heart of dairy land,
with hurrying chicks, and ducks, and geese,
and farm lads fresh milk fed and butter churned,
and I earned the first “B” paper grade
I’d ever received in my English career,
so I go to his office to ask how I can improve my writing,
there being no comments on the paper, and he says,
I don’t think there’s any way you can improve,
you can’t write, and I don’t know how you got into our program –
a palpable hit turned a scar I wear to this day,
my English literature world crashing around me as
speechless I turn and stagger out the door into space.
Post MA, I take a job at a Madison record store
and an English professor, a different one,
brings a Saturday Night Fever record to the register,
a best-seller we used as our loss leader for months,
but the sale’s long over, so we’d changed the price tags,
except on this single one he must have searched for
the same way he dug into Chaucer, and I say, Wow!
How did you manage to find this one, single album
out of all the Saturday Night Fever albums we have?
My oh my, we seem to have failed to change the price
on only this one, just this one alone. Amazing.
Glaring at me, quite miffed by my melodramatic oration,
he asks again, Will you honor this price?
Heated, too, I stare into this Medievalist’s eyes,
think about how I can’t write, and I say –
I say what you might guess.