I Lied

Leaning against the blackboard,
chalk dusts the hem of my conference dress
grazing my thigh, cutting a fake smile
as I smooth my hands down my leg
a simile of the pleasure of presence
in the appearance of a performative preening
he gives me no second look
over the terraces of students, under eye crop circles, sweats, and shaky hands, who look back
pleading in silence: get it over with.
They mean the midterm.

A coffee cup from hand to mouth breaks the boredom
the shuffling papers and scribbled pencils
like a scythe.
I try to be pleasant, that I am a professional thrilled to invigilate an exam I had no part in
but I am also ready to flee on sight of the first hand raised
a question: how do I pick an answer if both answers are right?
I shake my head
and it rolls down the staircase

Not to be outshone by the others, the TAs who catch my ears with their jokes
his chest presses against my elbow to monopolize my mind
whispering something about cheaters, clammy in their chairs
ones they have not occupied at any point until now.
His eyes burrow into my skin, and my smile bends under the weight
of losing ligaments to his invasive stare,
I say, zip it. That’s not nice.
But maybe this is play, two dogs wrestling with maws agape
my bite not sharp enough
to leave a cutting mark;
his tag wags as he walks around the class.

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