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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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The First Day

In geology, women were rare, but not

     unprecedented. There was one in my class and another,

we’d heard, ahead of us.

Nancy was my year, so simply beautiful

     she took your breath away. The clean,

smooth planes of her face

wasted nothing. There, and in her body, the simplest,

sparest lines rested the eye: long, straight limbs and

     page-boy hair, a honey-blond.

The first day of classes, we ate together, trying to understand

the lecture on atomic theory. Four young men

slid their trays onto the table, one on each side of

each of us. That’s when I learned

what test of character meant.

“We’re glad you girls are here,” said one,

     “aren’t we, men?”

Murmurs of assent around the table.

“A lot of guys think

geology is just for men—and ’til now,

there wasn’t much to say

it wasn’t.” Head tipped

     towards a corner table, stuck

     behind a pillar, behind which

     we could see

               a pair of sturdy legs.

“But you two,” he said, looking

     straight at Nancy, “you two are different.”

If she falls for this, I thought, I’ll fall too,

and what a low point that will be.

But Nancy was already

gathering up her things. “We’d heard,” she said,

“there was another girl. I’d like to meet her.

     Thanks for pointing her out.”

I put my tray on my books and stood.

“Me too. I think

we’re sitting at the wrong table.”

As we left, Nancy turned back.

“Care to join us?” she asked. She didn’t sound

     snide, or patronizing; just pleasant,

     which was more than I’d have managed.

One turned away, one shook his head, one

looked round, undecided. The fourth, somehow

bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

where the others affected suave, collegiate surfaces,

jumped up, knocking over his chair

as he said, “I’ll come,” and tray in one hand, bent for the chair, the tray

at a dangerous angle, milk glass sliding,

tipping—“Look out!”— too late, pouring

straight into the lap of

               the undecided one, making up his mind

     in a hurry.

“Cripes, Nelson!” Now he jumped up, dripping milk;

     Nelson apologized, napkins were plied, and then

     the three of us headed towards

     the corner.

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