In Champaign


It promised to be quite ordinary,
that old student/new student/faculty social hour.
 
I had come to Champaign with high hopes a year earlier,
starting a new career (--and hoping to find someone to love).
Now, with just three months left,
my studies had been a success,
but I had not found anyone to love.
And now I was thinking beyond Champaign:
where I would go, what I would do with my new degree.
 
I scanned the faces in the crowd.
Mixed in with all-too-familiar classmates and teachers were new people:
A formidable, blonde-haired woman
with a big voice and a large imitation pearl necklace;
no meek, retiring librarian here; a Valkyrie.
A guy with wire-rimmed glasses in his early twenties;
congenial, but serious; he had studied engineering.
A girl; stylish, extroverted;
loved Faulkner; engaged to be married.
A sensitive, thirty-ish woman; recently divorced;
her ex had stuck her with a mountain of credit card debt.
And you, in a pink dress.
No jewelry, not much makeup.
Nice figure.
Very simple, very pretty.
A wonderful smile.
Obviously bright.
You had gone here as an undergraduate.
You had taught school in Iowa for several years
and now were back to get a Library degree.
You had grown up on a farm.
You were eminently lovable.
You were, amazingly, unmarried.
 

I felt that I was at an art exhibition in nineteenth century France.
Here was Raffaelli's "Boulevard of the Italians"
which had sold for 500 francs.
Over here Lecomte de Nouy's "Ramses in His Harem"
which had brought 1900.
And over here in the corner, neglected,
Van Gogh's, "The Artist's Room at Arles".
I felt like shouting,
"My friends, can't you see the beauty of this painting:
its simplicity and purity, its energy; the symphony of its colors!
You have opted for these smooth, conventional paintings
and left this one, the most valuable of all, unsold. . . ."
 
I felt like hugging you, right then and there.
 
You were number two or three on my all-time "instant attraction" list.
But I was wary -- so many others had not worked out, why would you?
 
Our first date was a "Streetcar Named Desire".

I put my arm around you during the play and held your hand as we walked back    toward your apartment.
I invited you to "Bubby and Zadie's" cafe. You refused and offered no alternative.
I was devastated. So this, too, would come to nothing.
We would walk the three blocks back to your apartment.  We would say    goodnight.
I would go home and cry. That would be that.

But when we arrived, my hopes soared: you invited me up to your apartment. You really just didn't like Bubby and Zadie's -- and you liked and trusted me well enough that the intimacy of your apartment didn't seem inappropriate. We talked for a long time and kissed. When I left, all traces of wariness were gone. The coming weeks would not be ordinary.

 

Hear Jerry/Lucius read this poem.    This poem is part of the Scraps of Faith collection of poems.

Keywords: Champaign, Illinois, library school, love, first meeting wife, first date