I went to see my old friend
He was in the kitchen
what had brought me. He said,
“Let me see if I understand.
You’re worried because you’re happy?”
I said, “It’s not so absurd.
Take any writer, even Tolstoy . . .
he talks about happy families
being all the same. Misery,
that’s all people care about.
They won’t go to a concert
unless it’s discordant, a ballet
unless it takes place in a hospital
and the dancers are wound in bandages.”
“Enough,” he said, “already.
What do you care about such people?”
Having made the salad, he decided
it was his to do with as he pleased ...
put his fingers in and mucked it about,
picked out a mushroom.
“Stay for dinner,” he said. I said no thanks.
I take my trouble to bed with me.
When I wake in the morning
it’s there, refreshed by a good night’s sleep.
Writing poetry used to be easy.
“The stag at eve had drunk his fill”
got you off to a running start.
“What are you thinking?”
says Miriam, who for some time
has been awake.
“I ought to do something
post-structural. A monkey version
She says, “I don’t follow.”
“It’s a theory. If you chain monkeys
to typewriters, one of them
sooner or later will write Hamlet.
I’ll write it, changing a few words . . .”
“Shakespeare,” she says.
“Shakespeare was the monkey,
the one who typed Hamlet
exactly, word for word.”
I stare at her, stunned
and speechless with admiration.
I’m looking out the window
at a beagle, a beagle-terrier,
and a westie. Some trees.
A sky empty and void of ideas.
I think the powers that be
have decided, “That’s enough,
no more poetry for this fellow,
just life, since he likes it so much.
From where we sit, on Olympus,
as far as we can see
it’s dirt and weeds and bricks
with creatures crawling between.
What we like is a burnt offering . . .
not just cooked, scorched black,
a heart turning on a spit
over the fires of greed
and lust and self-loathing.
But a white birch by a door,
sunlight breaking from a cloud,
yellow and purple tips
pushing up from the ground,
and the woman he’s so fond of . . .
if that’s all he wants, let him have it,
there’s nothing we can do for him.”
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 10, on page 34
Copyright © 2023 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com