She was the one who approached me and spoke,
Saying my lectures had swept her away.
Maybe we could have occasional chats
After class ended, with coffee or drinks?
Cued and emboldened, I made an advance—
Shyly receptive, she moistened her lips
Whispering that she would love an amour.
One minor obstacle stood in our path:
Just a dull boyfriend she meant to discard
Once ploy and counterploy could be finessed.
If I’d consent to be patient till then
She would arrange for our mutual bliss.
Fool that I am, I agreed to these terms
Though I had heard such evasions before.
Suddenly life seemed to hum. I was caught
Up in a duststorm of feminine plans:
Luncheons and theater dates, cafés and shops,
Foursomes with various colleagues and friends—
Chirping and burbling, she mapped out my life
Into a series of social events.
After a while, I could mimic her voice:

Look! The Museum is showing Lautrec!
Let’s get our tickets and walk along Fifth.
Say—if you’re interested, on Wednesday night
We could have dinner and then catch a film.
(Oh, can we postpone our weekend escape?
Monday’s my midterm and I’ve got to cram).
My friend Michelle says the bistro we passed
Has a great menu that’s priced within reach.
Modern relationships really take work—
Bob and Elizabeth haven’t a clue…
(No—not tonight—it’s that time of the month)
I was in therapy nearly two years.
Don’t you think you should get rid of that tie?

During spring recess let’s drive to the Cape—
(It’s too impersonal at a motel…
How could you even suggest such a thing?)
Some day we’ll have to sit down and discuss
Just what they mean by a “postmodern” text.
God, how I love intellectual men!
What would you think if I frosted my hair?

So it went on, like a tedious play,
Moving from scene to superfluous scene,
Till I perceived that, despite all her smiles,
There were poor prospects for what I desired:
Simple, straightforward, no-strings-attached sex—
Something no woman will ever provide.
When I stopped phoning, though, she was aggrieved,
And in a burst of importunate tears,
Called me a rigid, insensitive male.


from Skirmishes (2010)



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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23 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    A brilliant narrative in male soliloquy (the italics recited in falsetto), where the would-be seducer blames his intended victim while undercutting himself over and over. She gains control of his life, and even his trophy-male status diminishes, along with the power over words that was his initial charm. Not surprising that she loses interest, and never discards her boyfriend. This “logical” man finally cuts her off when she insults his age (frosted hair to look old like him, indeed). He uses his final resource of making her cry–and then there is sex of sorts when Joseph Salemi hands her an accurately pointed dactyl to skewer him in the last line.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    He’s hardly a “seducer,” Margaret, when the girl has approached HIM and offered an “amour.”

    The poem equally satirizes the speaker and the airhead female student.

  3. Rod Walford

    She offered her honor….he honored her offer……and that’s when complications set in! A brilliant narrative Sir….. about a not uncommon set of circumstances methinks. Enjoyed it immensely…. thank you!

  4. Margaret Coats

    Hey, what the airhead asks for is “occasional chats” with “coffee or drinks.” Then the would-be seducer makes an advance. Remember, you gave him control of the narrative, and the disappointed man wants to make himself look good. Of course what happened wasn’t his idea. Complex story and well done–take the credit!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Then why does she says that “she would love an amour,” and why does she say that she “would arrange for our mutual bliss”? That’s more than just flirtatious cock-teasing.

      • Margaret Coats

        The male speaker says those words, always dreaming of what he never gets. The girl, on the other hand, succeeds at having a high-status male companion for weeks or months of social events. She gets what she asked for, but seems less and less inclined to render him any favors, as he gives her more and more control, showing himself incapable of planned seduction, and admitting this isn’t his first failure.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Margaret, the speaker is QUOTING the girl in question. There is nothing in the text to suggest he is lying about what she said. And this is not a “planned seduction”; it is an agreed-upon exchange. The man carries out his side of the deal, and the girl decides to keep putting off her promised part. It’s very much like a hookup with a prostitute, except that prostitutes are generally honest businesswomen who don’t cheat their clients. Your hostility towards the speaker in this poem is misplaced.

    • Margaret Coats

      Joseph, I am neither hostile nor indulgent toward this speaker. “She was the one . . .” (first line in this poem) comes from Genesis, where Adam speaks to God and tries to blame Eve for the Original Sin. Can I really expect the son of Adam here to be perfectly honest about a woman who has deceived, disappointed, and frustrated him? When he alone gets to tell the story, it’s human nature for him to be defensive and self-interested, and to portray himself in the best light.

      You, maestro, could hardly have given us as much fun here if your speaker were a sincere penitent making his Confession with the fear of Hell in his heart.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Oh please, Margaret… you’re treating a comic-satiric poem as if it were an exercise in scriptural typology? This poem has nothing to do with the Bible.

        The poem is a spoof on the frustrated desire of an “homme moyen sensuel” who’s looking for simple sexual pleasure, and a brainless feminist bitch who’s concerned with social poses and chic consumerist satisfaction. All the male speaker does is give up his quest, and stop phoning her. He doesn’t harass her or rape her or stalk her or try to seduce her. And her response to his disappearance is the predictable reflex feminist reaction of going on a crying jag, and calling him “a rigid, insensitive male.”

        As for the argument that the girl’s voice is not given here, well… it IS given, in twenty full lines. I’m surprised that you would use the bogus “presence of absence” argument of modern critical theorists.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What a highly amusing and thoroughly interesting piece (thank you, Joe) and subsequent discussion (thank you, Joe and Margaret) Here’s my fun take:

    You say, “Lautrec,” I say, “Let’s neck”
    – Let’s call the whole thing off!

    He wants an unpaid prostitute.
    She wants a prof in tie and suit.
    Sexy pledges turn to bickers
    When the flirt won’t drop her knickers.
    The failure of this odd affair
    Is tucked in unshed underwear,
    Beyond the reach of luckless eyes.
    Lust ain’t love – it swiftly dies.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thanks Susan. This whole thing reminds me of an old joke from the 1950s:

      A guy says to a girl “Would you have sex with me for a million bucks?”

      The girl replies “Well, sure, for that amount of money I would.”

      The guy then says “Would you have sex with me for one buck?”

      The girl replies angrily: “WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM?”

      The guy replies: “We’ve already determined what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

    • Yael

      “He wants an unpaid prostitute… it swiftly dies.”
      Susan, this has got to be the best Reader’s Digest or Cliff Note’s version of any poem I’ve ever read!
      Joseph’s poem is great in and of itself, but having your short comical synopsis to go along with it is like having the chocolate dipped cherry with whipped cream on top of the icing of the cake.
      I love it!

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Yael, your comment has informed me of my calling in life. Spicing up Cliff Notes beckons. Chaucer’s “the Nonnes Preestes Tale of the Cok and Hen” could be elevated from “meh” to “wicked” in a few rhyming couplets. Students of English Literature… here I come! 🙂

  7. Rod Walford

    Well I’m going to chip in my ten cents worth:

    A boy asked his father to define the difference between theory and reality.
    The father says “Go and ask your mother if she would be prepared to have sex with the plumber for a million dollars”.
    The boy duly complies and comes back with an answer in the affirmative.
    “Now go and ask your sister the same question” says the father.
    Again the boy complies and again he returns with a positive response.
    “There you go then” says the father
    “The theory is that we are sitting on two million dollars……the reality is that we are living with a couple of slappers!”

  8. David Watt

    Joe, I enjoyed your true to life narrative, which held my attention throughout. The accumulation of her verbal snippets provides a clear picture of motive and personality.

  9. Jeff Eardley

    Dr Salemi, I really enjoyed reading this. It’s a bit like the screenplay from an old Woody Allen movie. The italicised female’s verse reminded me of a line from a song by the late Jake Thakray about his wife, “She’ll never use two or three words when a couple of thousand will do.” For this, he was branded a mysogynist, which I think is a little unfair. However, the first line of the song is, “I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day” Thank you for a lovely slice of life.

  10. C.B. Anderson

    I would like, Joseph, to comment on the prosody rather than the narrative. I don’t know who screwed whom in this poem, but many of the lines were catalectic in respect to pure dactyls. That aside, what shall we call this? Blank verse is conventionally defined as iambic pentameter without end rhymes. Shall we simply call it what it is, namely, blank dactylic verse? If so, then I challenge everyone to come up with a prior example of such a thing. You might have broken new ground. But not for the first time.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I just wanted to create a forceful dactylic rhythm within the confines of a ten-syllable line. There isn’t a single line that has more than ten syllables, as long as one is reasonable about normal speech elisions. Some people here aren’t. (Not you, Kip).

      SHE was the ONE who ap PROACHED me and SPOKE,
      SAY ing my LEC tures had SWEPT her a WAY.
      MAY be we COULD have oc CAS ion al CHATS,
      AF ter class END ed, with COF fee and DRINKS?

      In the line “Say–if you’re interested, on Wednesday night” this is the proper pronunciation:

      SAY if you’re IN tress tid, ON wens day NIGHT

      And in the line “There were poor prospects for what I desired” the last word is to be pronounced “de – SAIYRD”, with two syllables. This an open choice for all English poets, when dealing with words like “tired, hired, fired, sired admired” and others.

      • James A. Tweedie

        C.B. I suppose you are free to describe this poem any way you would like, but I am content to take Dr. S at his word and simply embrace it as an “exercise” in creating a “forceful dactylic rhythm within the confines of a ten-syllable line.” The fact that the closing foot is not a complete dactyl should not be an issue.

        If nothing else, the abrupt ending of each line adds even greater force to the rhythm intent than would be the result of a full dactylic foot.

        Poetry modeled after classical dactylic hexameter is rarely written in rhyme and it appears the Dr. is following that tradition in this abbreviated form.

        My own attempt at the full hexameter form can be found here, where you can readily see how the closing dactyl in each line softens the effect.

        As an amateur, I welcome any correction to my observations.

  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    People did try to write quantitative dactylic hexameters in English during the Renaissance, based on classical models. They were disastrous.

    Mr. Tweedie, your “A Grief Observed” is not bad at all — but I think we can agree that a full dactylic hexameter in English will never be popular. It just isn’t natural to our tongue. Your poem works because it is essentially stress-based.


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