Naked Graduation; Prolepsis; Public, Urban; Supervisor; Unfortunate Conflict of Interest


Instead of draped in yards
of rented, slick Visqueen, we would
arrive here naked, marching barefoot,
each roll and fold of us
with the exception perhaps
of the tams with their exuberant
dancing tassels
and the brilliant plumage of hoods.
Instead of all this dark cloth,
nothing but goosepimples.
Each plastic folding chair
with a courtesy tissue on the seat.
When we grew tired of the speakers
whose voices reverberate
through the half full stadium,
we could focus instead
on the crowds of beings with soft arms
like tentacles reaching up in a collective wave
or toward one another in embrace.
What if this ceremony, transparent,
centered the body rather than
shrouding it in the indistinct
tenting of credentials.


The rays scatter and will not converge.
What you leave behind are capsules
of impulse. What you know remains
like the gathering of trinkets in fraying
silk change purses; you can’t remember
how they got there, but they trail
translucent spirits of those who gave them.
You condensed your mother’s life to two
cardboard boxes that remained under the china
cabinet in plain view for seven years.
You know what is in them down to the last
hair coiling occult in the brush.
That is how life is—boxing of remnants,
saving them with what’s inside on quiet fire.
They tie you to your days.
When I think of you now, I remember
the dogged becoming, the selves
tossed like scarves to the gale as if there were
plenty. Time stands still when we fling
ourselves forward, as we gather what we need.


If not here, then nowhere,
the end of the shift torrid
with molten heat. Up the staircase
of Berea stone in a building with
four clock faces, each telling its
own time. A classroom
oasis of scraping chairs
dusty with chalk, the books
full of muscular metaphors
or elusive equations. If you
are the first, there is no good
time to go, to professionalize,
the city bursting with a mandate
to manufacture, but if not then,
through hardship, perhaps never.
A university in a hurry did not start
with the grant of land or
a magnate’s dream of an ivory
tower bearing his name,
but with the shoulder-work
of what must be done
in this timeline with these resources.
Days shaped by the commute, the crowding,
the curriculum growing from the needs
of the city’s ad hoc eruption.
Go here and stay working class.

You go, even when it is hard
to get here, because of what
you don’t have to abandon
to do so, because being
with so many others holding on
to what’s important is rare.
If not you, then maybe no one.

Glittering tools of thought,
access, the sense felt and seen
that when you have a question, here
someone of goodwill can assist you,
and in doing so honors you and also
the act of honest questioning.


She doesn’t know I’ve followed her
down here. I heard about this beach
for years, like it was really special,
and of course it’s a dingy fishing
and tourist village with one bleached
main street and bugs everywhere.

The men I see are unattached
and splotchy. She and her weird
husband are staying in one
of those frayed cottages
with window units hanging off
of them. She sits and looks at what?
They hardly even swim. They walk
up and down the shore and barely
get their feet wet. That’s not
exercise. They go
to the grocery store and cook in.

My plan is to bump into her
and ask her about work.
I sent an email she didn’t
answer and tagged her
in a comment on FB
that she didn’t respond to.
I’m staying up the road
and there’s a view of the tiki
bar and I know they won’t be
able to stay away since there’s
an open mic and a keyboard.
I’ll just get one of those tall drinks
and wait. She can’t sing, either,
but she will.


I grew up in a spaceship
called Unfortunate Conflict
of Interest. All I wanted to do
was read, but a voice kept calling
up the stairs for me to join
the family. They sat in front
of cherry-blossom wedding china
eating caramels that sometimes
ended up on the walls.
All in the Family blared from
the dirt basement below
when the coal wasn’t rattling.

I dreamed about getting
even further away from them
in maybe an attic crawl space
but the best I could manage
was the shed with taupe
siding. There was a lawn mower
and a thousand glass jars
with lids nailed to the bottom
of shelves, twisted nails
and miscellaneous screws
forever preserved inside.

Caroline Maun is an associate professor of English and Interim Chair of the Department of English at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where she teaches creative writing and American literature. Her poetry books include The Sleeping (Marick Press, 2006), What Remains (Main Street Rag, 2013), and two chapbooks,  Cures and Poisons and Greatest Hits, both published by Pudding House Press. She has also been published in The Bear River Review, The MacGuffin, The Main Street Rag, Mount Hope Magazine, Third Wednesday, Peninsula Poets, and Eleven Eleven, among others. She has studied with Peter Meinke and Sterling Watson, and has attended the Bear River Writers’ Conference for more than ten years.