The Professor’s Body
Can fragility feel as hot as bravado? I think so, but sometimes struggle to find the way.
—Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
Photo Credit: Valerie Booth
The professor’s body sits cross-legged on the edge of the desk. Its head turns all round the semicircle to make sure of eye contact with every student.
The professor’s body feels the need to get down from the hard desk. It uncrosses its legs, steps downward. The prof who is, after all, still in her early fifties, lets out an involuntary groan and limps stiffly, like the hunchback of Notre Dame, to the chair behind the desk.
The professor makes a note to self: “Stretches before breakfast.”
The professor’s body, before going to work, gazes longingly at the bed she has just made. Rather than in front of a classroom, playing at authority in constricting clothes, the body would like to be in her white flannel nightie on the bed, reading a book and eating chocolate, or naked under the covers, sleeping peacefully.
Instead, she gets herself into the car with the husband’s body—also, reluctantly, on its way to class—and gets out again on campus half-covered in the dog hair that infests the car. Now there is the removal of the dog hair to be performed, also the checking for an open fly or button or food between the teeth. The mirrors on campus remind the professor’s face that it is more than thirty years older than the students’.
The p. b. had a night of anxiety and bad dreams, perhaps because of the news, perhaps because she saw pictures of a tortured dog. She dragged it—her body—into the tub and then the closet. In the closet there were no clothes appropriate to the sudden, obscene, spring weather. The professor’s body wore sweatpants and an old, stained woolen shirt to class. The temptation was great not to put on a bra, but the professor did not want to cause an undue distraction in the classroom.
The p. b. does a lot of sweating in front of classes, as well, often at the crotch. She wonders if her pants are obviously stained with sweat. When she is especially carried away she will scratch at a scab on some part of her body and begin to bleed. Suddenly, the professor is writing on the board with a bloody hand.
Sometimes the p. b. has imbibed a lot of coffee and suddenly needs to urinate. Then she apologizes to the class, wondering whether to say, “I’m going to the bathroom,” or “I need to pee.” Since the course she is teaching is about the body, she makes a little joke. The making of little jokes is a big part of keeping her body feeling safe and happy and liked.