I was taking the two minutes to microwave a Trader Joe’s frozen burrito
in the kitchen that was also a dining room that was also a mail room
for this branch of the state community college
when the campus executive,
who had walked in with a friend he’d been chatting with about horse politics,
said He’s a Jew but he’s really a nice guy.
We were the only ones in the break room, they were the only ones
and I just happened to be waiting for the microwave
to beep while they raised glazed donuts someone different brought every day
to their fat lips, and I thought, fat lips? and I looked around for the blonde women
of average height and build whose chatter I often shared
this cheap fluorescent lunch with,
Sues and Anns and Peggys I liked despite
having nothing in common aside from this room, but it was just me
and this bearded rhetoric professor, balding
and in my memory he could have been talking to anyone
but I didn’t want to stare. I know the microwave
shined its light behind me until it beeped and I opened it
as it beeped. I looked past them, out the windows that led to the playground
for the kindergarten that butted up against our school.
Later I would drive by mothers waiting in their cars watching their children
file out with their teachers as I raced towards the Badgers bar
and after that one strip of town our campus was on the other side of,
whenever I remembered this moment,
looking back, it was always about looking forward,
the long drive, the roads that opened up to horizon
where I’d round a bend and fields would flower,
the leaves different there: Red Oak, Valley Forge Elm
and Autumn Fantasy Maple. All trees are bare root
at first, their supply felt limitless.
Stuck inside that closet of a community college Writing Center
all morning, all afternoon, rural expanse north of Madison, where I lived,
but not where I was from. When students didn’t show
I graded papers or wrote poems; the commute was worth it
for all the time I earned. It was a good job,
I thought, as I sat with my burrito at my computer.
I didn’t care. And that was the truth, too. I didn’t care about them,
I didn’t care enough about what they thought or had to say,
I didn’t think it mattered. I thought quite explicitly.
Joshua Gottlieb-Miller is pursuing his Ph.D. in poetry at the University of Houston, where he currently serves as the Digital Nonfiction Editor for Gulf Coast. Joshua lives in Houston with his wife, Lauren, and son, Owen.