How I Became a Poet

 

I never meant to be a poet. I wanted

to be the great American novelist, or so I thought

in college. But one day in January, 1979,

I had an appointment with my advisor

when I overheard him on the phone, saying

he wanted “to nail that man’s balls to the wall.” 

 

“Whose balls?” I asked when he hung up.

“David Lehman’s balls,” he said. “Whatever you do,

never take a class with David Lehman.”

Who is David Lehman? I wondered.  Afterwards,

I wandered up the stairs in the English

Department, and turned right into what

I thought was a bathroom. And there he was!

The man whose balls were in question. 

 

“May I help you?” David Lehman asked. I paused 

and checked out the books on his shelf, including

an Encyclopedia of Angels. Or was it saints?

And a Frank O’Hara collection with a nude

man on the cover. I told him my advisor had just 

suggested I take an independent study with him. 

 

David looked at me, startled, half-smiling, 

as if he knew I was lying or joking, and I knew

he knew I knew he knew,

but I blinked innocently and added, “He says

only you can teach me what I need to know.” 

“How could I refuse?” David grinned, but I could tell 

he wanted to when he added, “I don’t usually do

independent studies. I’m a very busy man.”

Then he paused, pushed his wire-rimmed glasses

up his nose, and asked, “Are you a poet?” 

 

“Of course,” I lied as I looked out the window

at the snow falling, students with their heads

tucked deep in their down jackets,

and breathed in hard to suppress a laugh,

afraid that if I burst out, the spell would break,

and I would not be David’s only solo student,

and my future as a poet would never come to pass.

She-la-la

 

“You know he slept with Sheila McCullough?” my advisor said,

meaning that's why I shouldn't study with David Lehman.

“Sheila McCullough?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

“How else could she get an A in poetry?” he asked,

waving his hand dismissively.

“By writing good poems?” I suggested, then added

I was pretty sure I was the only one

sleeping with Sheila McCullough.

He flushed a little and got up from his desk,

and I left with my forms signed, sighing,

“You know, Sheila McCullough is the best!”

 

It was true. Even her name sang on my tongue,

Sheila, She-la-la, She-la McCullough . . .

She looked like a runway model with her long

slender legs in hotpants. Although I didn't

know her, I admired her from afar and often

wondered what it would be like to be so lovely

that even my professors assumed I was an idiot

and wondered who I was sleeping with on the sly. 

1980

 

was the year my advisor threw me out of his class

for being what he called “an unsavory element.”

“If savory is salty, does that mean I’m sweet?”

I asked. He didn’t laugh. He told me to grab my books

and leave. ASAP. I had written two stories in his class,

the first a fairy tale about a princess who despised

all the princes in the land. Princes,

she told her dad, just weren’t her thing.

He told me to write what I knew instead. So I wrote

a true story about Joey Crutchfield who entered my room

at midnight after I had gone to the bathroom

and forgotten to lock the door to my dorm room

when I went back to bed. His intentions,

he said, were honorable, and then he told me

how pretty I was. Neither statements were true. 

I managed to get him to leave and write about it 

afterwards, only I renamed him Crotchforth,  

and when I read the story aloud, everyone knew

who I was talking about and they laughed and clapped

and word spread—it escalated into a minor campus event

until Joey called me on the phone to threaten

me. He said his daddy would sue me for libel.

Yes, his daddy was a hotshot New York lawyer

who always had his son’s best interests at heart.

Needless to say, I was quivering in my LL Bean

boots. This was years before the #MeToo

movement—not long after a freshwoman

called Diz was spoon-raped at a frat party

by six men—whom she accused later, though

she was so drunk, how could she be sure?

That was the frat boys’ excuse, and the dean

nodded his assent. So did the college president.

Everyone whispered about Diz, and the boys

waved spoons when she walked past in the cafeteria

as if she were a joke until the day she left school

and never came back. “Imagine it,” we whispered.

“Waking up to a man eating orange sherbet

out of your crotch.” Did they really do that?

I still think about her sometimes

when I see the names of those frat boys,

now in their sixties with their wives and children

and Facebook posts of sunny, white-fenced lives,

all of them lawyers or doctors or hedge fund managers.

The worst is in Congress. Of course he is.

And Diz? Who knows? Like many women who are victims,

she changed her name, her address, her hair color,

her history. She cut off her college contacts,

stopped answering letters and phone calls.

“I’m not here. Don’t bother leaving a message,”

the voice on her answering machine said.

She learned how to be as invisible as a mouse

in a field with a red-tailed hawk overhead.

But these days I imagine her coming back

as Superwoman with a fork or knife in hand,

a smile on her crimson lips—ready at last to pay back

those creeps, the ones who fucked up her life

and mine. And yours, too, I bet. I keep thinking

they need to have their balls forked—just once. Maybe twice.

Not too much—nothing we’d truly regret.

Nin Andrews.png

Nin Andrews

Pronouns: She/Her

3 Poems

How I Became a Poet

She-la-la

1980

ArrowLW3_edited.png

The author of 7 chapbooks and 7 full-length poetry collections, Nin Andrews (she/her) has won two Ohio individual artist grants, the Pearl Chapbook Contest, the Kent State University chapbook contest, the Gerald Cable Poetry Award, and the 2016 Ohioana Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in many literary reviews and anthologies including Agni, The Paris Review, The Best of the Prose Poem, and four volumes of Best American Poetry. Her book, The Last Orgasm, was published by Etruscan Press in 2020.

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
Screen Shot 2020-10-03 at 2.34.42 PM.png
LimpWrist_FINALS_Seal.png
ArrowLW3_edited.png