NOR 4 #4: ’69

By Kathy Fagan
Featured Image: Alfred Sisley by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

If it’s been ten times it’s been forty-five  

I’ve checked the man out in the car behind

mine, teeth bared, laughing in my rearview.

I cannot stop myself from watching him,

sun full on his face. He’s all alone—

we are, among our fellow rush commuters—

and then it dawns on me: it’s Mr. Cahill

from sixth grade, my first male teacher (heart, be still!),

who taught sex ed to us in ‘69,

in Catholic school, till someone narked and he

was gone for good. Those days, we venerated

the venereal, reciting sex words right

out loud: Vagina, Penis, Testes, Clit,

plain as the state capitals up and down

each aisle. I lived for the sight of him. And he,

for kindergarten teacher Miss Appell,

who had no sexual parts as far

as we could tell. He liked the shy girls best,

the ones my mom called “pretty on the inside,”

the kind a man could marry. I’d wished to be the

other kind. Then Mr. Cahill changed

all that. And here he is, returned at last,

past middle age, full head of hair, his teeth

intact, gleeful at the wheel of a Honda

Civic, red (Father always said

he was a Communist); and sure enough,  when

traffic moves he whips around me faster

than you’d think a Civic could. I can’t

keep up. O rebel hero: Fellatio,

Intercourse, Cunnilingus, Fuck.

How could we know a tattle then could get

you sent to Nam? He drove too fast there, learned to

like talk radio almost as much

as rock and roll. What strikes his funny bone

this morning would be just another shock

jock, talking trash. Sex has turned us rich

or dead or funny, but it turns nobody

bad, as Sister Carol said I’d be

if I kept mum. Love does that, Mr. C.

Inside. Love made a potty-mouth of me.


Kathy Fagan’s fifth book, Sycamore (Milkweed, 2017), was a finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Award. Milkweed will publish her new book, Bad Hobby, in 2022. She has received fellowships from the NEA and the Ohio Arts Council. Recent work has also appeared in Poetry, Tin House and The Nation. Fagan directs the MFA Program at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where she serves as series co-editor for the OSU Press/Wheeler Poetry Prize.

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