In my first year of college, long ago,
I took a class on Ovid and Catullus.
One of the sexual poems I found confusing,
and the book we were using
was quite devoid of commentary on it,
grammatical or otherwise.
So at the next class, I asked my professor
what the poet meant by such-and-such.
He was hesitating, doubtful, maybe-yes-maybe-no.
Yet at the following meeting of the class,
he was entirely changed:
he explained forthrightly just how the poem worked.
I could not understand the sudden change
until I looked about the studentry
and saw the only female student
absent that day.
I was shocked and outraged --
naïve nerd from a feminist family that I was --
to think that a professor! of the liberal arts!
and of Latin of all things! could be so sexist,
so crude, so utterly indifferent to his duties
to all his students.
Many years later, it occurred to me to wonder
if he had sunk so low as to ask her
to be absent that day so that he could answer my questions.
All the worse, I thought.
All the worse.
Looking back today, I think:
perhaps he was, poor man, in a cleft stick,
caught between the fear of being accused of harassment
by the woman for openly discussing sex in class,
and the fear of having his dean (who happened to be my mother)
coming down on him for neglecting the questions
of her precious darling (little did he know
that while she might have disapproved,
she would never have punished him for that --
my mother believed in justice).
It's a hell of a thing
when students can't learn
for fear or for shame
what the poets sing.