Our Stories @ ENG: Jason S Polley

Our Stories @ ENG: A series in which teaching staff and students share their memories of the ENG Department to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the department. [Read all entries.]  [Revisit the “Pride of Place” series.] [Revisit the “Pet Sounds” series.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]

Curmudgeon Calculus
by Jason S Polley

It might be only me
Who hides their—
I encountered this academic picking of pronouns in Toronto:
“Her/Hers”; “He/His”; “They/Their.”
A choice/direction/decree/inflection/conciliation/apology/mask?
So my lanyard supported my name, itself bearing the, my, singular “They/Their.”

A faux nod to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and DFW?
A just corrective, pace Nietzsche, via Byatt, to the dying animal of a false grammar god?

—Who hides their smartphone in public,
Who, even, even at endless administrative meetings,

Refuses the mechanical compulsion to apportion their smartphone the place of honour:
A beacon pulsing bright light right below the heart: tortured simulacrum. Beautiful monster.

Absinthe, liqueur, lover: the heroin high of the, of any, any absent other who,
Who always already comes first. Clackety clack clack. Chin down. Eyes absent. Ears odd.

“Sorry.” “Sorry.” A murther of sorrys sans sorrow. All qualms gone. The rabble calls them…
Happy, melancholy angels surrendering presence away, away, the live-long…

I remember, I romanticise, another sort of staffroom and classroom presence.
I remember, I’m nostalgic about—

Though in classrooms I long-sentence lambast nostalgia for its disservice to the past,
For its, for nostalgia’s, prison-sentencing of the present to the detritus of an unreliable past.

—Yet here I am,
Here this they is

Lusting for the sanitised before, when distance was absence, and presence tangible.
And smartphones still the utopian paraphernalia of SF—as distant as astral projection.

When serious students still seriously stared frontward.
When gossip was still face-to-face. When rectitude was less deliberate(d).

When students were, when most Theys were, still “Live,” as it were. Animate. I am here.
Before the endlessness of electronic “Better Than Life” Red Dwarf elsewheres. Clickety click.

This, before the neurotically obsessive archiving of every single lived thing.
Angled chins. Widened eyes. Co-opted captions. App-enabled avatar enhancements.

This naïve before, when sunrises were sunrises, seagulls seagulls, and “selfies” was just a typo.
When our digital avatars were afterthoughts. When sunsets yet hollered of unhurried hiatuses.

Jason S Polley


jspJason S Polley is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by JSP.]

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