“We don’t need to ask what the poet means, just what he feels. Better yet, Adam, what do you feel when you read these lines?”

“What lines?”

The guys chuckled; two or three guffawed in that attention-gathering way of hulky jocks. Oh dear; perhaps her admiration for beefy athletes, as well as slender swimmer types, had become too obvious once again. The more serious, academic-minded boys disappeared from her range of vision, although she encouraged their poetic sensibilities because, after all, it was a poetry appreciation class. One or two of the students had literary aspirations, which she, of all people, would be the last to discourage. A poet herself, Mandy understood the creative impulse. She also painted swirling, delicate water colours inspired by dream imagery, studied Indonesian dances at the Java Institute in Montreal when not teaching, and meditated in the lotus position under a print of vulvar flowers by Georgia O’Keefe.

The less physically prepossessing among her students benefited from the presence of athletes who helped to spread good cheer in her class room. Most of the two dozen students consisted of males who belonged to one college sports team or another. Five girls huddled together in a corner, smirking more than smiling, she noted, giving each other pregnant looks. Everyone passed. She awarded As liberally if they wrote the way she talked or tried to show their appreciation. She didn’t correct grammar or structure because Mandy believe they inhibited creativity. On their papers, she was certain the students benefitted more from comments like “I enjoyed the soul of your essay.” If one of the jocks had written in muddled prose, she wrote in an exquisite hand: “this is a wonderful and truthful piece of work, Jimmy. Do come see me after class to discuss it.” Jimmy came, and she saw to it that he would come again. No one had ever complained about a high mark.

“Were you paying attention, Adam?”

“Yes, miss. I was following your lines, miss.”

In the library study carrel last week before her evening class began at seven, not expecting but delighted to see him, they had found a secluded spot. She had unwound her batik sarong, purchased in Jakarta where she had taught English as second language to lithesome boys for a few months before too many clucking tongues and that incident of betel juice spat in her face indicated that it was time to leave. During his penetrating embrace of her jasmine-scented body on the carrel desk near the deserted philosophy stacks, Adam had repeated, “Oh, miss, miss, oh God, you’re so hot, miss, I’m coming, fuck, fuck, I’m cummmmming.” They shuddered together beautifully and he loved it when she praised his silky-smooth body and wrapped her sarong around his hunky body.

Unlike many of her female colleagues, she hadn’t lost sexual allure simply because of the pedagogical imperative. She didn’t believe in the traditional hierarchy of education and the arbitrary barriers it established between students and their teachers who were more or less the same age, give or take six or seven years. Well, that wasn’t as true as it used to be, since time inexorably pushed her further and further away in years, but surely not in desires. She understood the fantasies and natural compulsions of randy boys.

That commune in California had taught her the joys of openness and the role sensuality played in developing the mind. Logic and rationality had corroded the Western spirit. And how gorgeous the boys! The tasty bodies, the curvature, the firm thighs, the long strong legs, the lips and hips, the flat washboard or smoothly hard stomachs, the bright and sensitive eyes awash with healthy lust, and, oh, glory be, their proud and demanding cock, the pride of their beautiful masculinity. Students learned so much better if they were also loved. Occasionally, Mandy experienced a twinge of guilt when she thought about the girls. She always chatted casually with them and tried to persuade them to join in the camaraderie of the classroom and not assume that sulky look of comic book heroines who wondered if their boyfriends really loved them.

Ah, love, love: love was not simply a subject of sonnets or pop songs. It was thrilling physicality like Adam’s provocative chest, his nipples pushing against the tightness of his black T-shirt. Oh, lovely nipples, oh, lovely belly button, oh, lovely lips and tongue. She had licked his sweet-smelling flesh in a deserted section of the library stacks, delighting in its saltiness, her hands almost within reach of Allan Ginsberg’s Howl.

True, times were a-changing, a lesson emphatically made clear at the end of her first teaching year in that Connecticut private school where the headmaster suggested that her methods and their curriculum were irreconcilable. At least, the good man had written a glowing letter of reference to ease the transition and avoid unpleasantness. Here, in this junior college, Mandy believed she had found a permanent home when she was hired three years ago. The college had opened its doors in the heyday of countercultural movements years ago, and still prided itself on innovation in pedagogy and non-traditional teaching techniques. So, it claimed, but definitions of pedagogical technique seemed to be a matter of dispute at times.

In the early years of its existence, several teachers had been hired on the basis of real-life work experience, alternative knowledge gained in the third world, and not upon standard degrees, which they did not all possess. Half the faculty had revolutionized the sixties, or tried to. Despite greyness and sagginess, many still wore jeans, and not a few of the older male teachers wore their hair in ponytails. Yes, she had been born after the fact, but her parents had smoked, toked, chanted, meditated, and protested all over the United States before finally immigrating to Canada. Her sojourn in the forest commune was the result of an impulse to explore heightened consciousness and liberation shortly after graduating from the university.

In the commune, she absorbed eastern thought in a totally non-structured way, walking through among giant trees with one guru or another, men who had transvalued themselves and emerged, well, elevated above the muck and mire of mere materialism. They had also raised coitus to a platonic ideal without sacrificing the physical. They freed learning from the tyranny of syllabi and marks. Three gurus had taught her tantric sex, not always at the same time, which she tried to teach to her favourite students, but they got tangled in each other’s limbs. They tended towards impatience and quick thrusts, satisfying in their way, but not entirely spiritual. Oh, blessed boys, oh happy satyrs frolicking in the pools, who had such pleasure in them to give, to whom she could give so much more.

“Jean-Claude, what do you feel about Whitman’s lines? Please read them aloud first, so we can all enjoy them again.”

He did not look at her sitting on the desk in front of the blackboard, one leg crossed and sandaled feet visible beneath below the hemline of her sarong. The finely muscled structure of his shoulders apparent beneath his football jersey, Jean-Claude shifted his legs and leaned forward, hunched over his book, and read the lines:

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?

Dear heart, he read English with a heavy Québécois accent that made her bones tingle with pleasure, although today his voice had a hurried, hard quality. So demanding when he made love, a bit too rough, and insisting that she always be available to satisfy his aching needs and must never let another guy fuck her. She did not need anyone else, he proclaimed. After the fifth time last month, they had a little tête-à-tête about jealous possessiveness, and not expecting more than the ecstasy they shared in the moment. Embrace the joys of the here and now and don’t try to chain the future, she had tried to teach him. Really, he mustn’t think of breaking up with Rachel of the auburn hair and distinctly pouty expression, one of the girls who sat in the back row. Surely, Jean-Claude didn’t believe that Mandy could ever replace his girlfriend, such an intelligent young lady? Despite all her exquisite ministrations and his ejaculations wherever he pleased, he had raged out of her apartment when she’d refused to swear everlasting fidelity to a sweet boy who had his entire future ahead of him. Oh, the sensuous texture of his skin, like shimmering satin. How she loved watching him dive like a demigod into the pool during swim team practise until her presence aroused too much attention. Conceivably out of pique, Rachel had spoken to the dean, who in turn requested a meeting. She had always praised the girl and awarded her high marks. The boys were all over 18, well, except for Jean-Claude, who would turn 18 next month, and one or two others, but no one knew about them, she didn’t think.

The meeting with the academic dean, her department head, and a union representative was directly after class. Why had the union become involved? A student had complained about her marking methods; that was all she had been told by the chairperson; that, and “other issues” which required consideration. The matter could hardly be a question of labour relations. She taught her classes well, her success rate above average, students contented; indeed, happy. New students, mostly boys, flocked to register in her class at the beginning of each semester. Why would anyone complain about high marks to the dean? Yes, disaffected students always existed; even the most talented of teachers suffered those in a class from time to time. Had she not offered tutorial assistance? Had her marking not been generous enough?

Perhaps it would be wise not to put Jean-Claude on the spot, so Mandy turned towards, well, a female seemed advisable, but not Rachel. Louise had golden frizzy curls just like hers, although the girl’s body tended towards the Rubenesque, which, great for a painter, didn’t appeal to most randy athletes.

“Thank you, Jean-Claude. Let’s get someone else involved. Louise, what do you feel about the lines Jean-Claude just read?”

Louise mumbled an answer to which Mandy paid scant attention because the class had come to an end. Jean-Claude rushed away. She wanted a word with him. Surrounding her as usual, Mandy couldn’t dally with the boys jostling around her like satyrs encircling a nymph in a forest glade. Adam slipped her a note that she read as she sauntered toward the dean’s office on the second floor. Mandy wondered if she should agree to spend the weekend with Adam and a couple of other boys, whom she had personally tutored to improve their performance. He had a heated pool and his parents would be in New York.

When she entered the dean’s office, his secretary was decidedly cool in her greeting. That didn’t surprise Mandy, for the secretary always wore a disapproving scowl on her face, but she was surprised to see Jean-Claude sitting, hunched over as usual, almost panting under an official school portrait. He didn’t reply to her question. Nor did he even bother to look at her, and he turned his body away when she approached, as if to avoid contagion.

The dean opened the door and wordlessly motioned for Jean-Claude and Mandy to enter his office.