Out of a government grant to poets, I paid
to be flung through the sky from St. Louis to San Francisco,
and paid for tours and cruises and bars, and paid
did I spend enough in that city all that time
of my country’s money, my country’s right or wrong,
to keep one spoonful of its fire from eating
one hangnail, say, of the Vietcong?
“Don’t clear the fish away yet,” one poet said.
“The cheek of the fish is a great delicacy.”
With a spoon handle he probed away in its head
and brought out a piece of white flesh the size of a pea.
“For the hostess,” he said, “from all her grateful gourmets.”
In SAVE THE CHILDREN ads I’ve seen the babies.
Filled with nothing but gas and sour juice,
their bellies bulge like rotten cabbages.
“One dollar to CARE will pay for ninety meals.”
They cry. They starve. They’re waiting. They are in anguish.
How can we bear to imagine how it feels?
Pain. Pain. I ate the cheek of the fish.
In an instant of succulence my hideous maw
swallowed, I’d guess, the dinners of fifty children.
What good does it do to really take that in,
and what good does it do to vomit it out again?
Gentle reader, should I economize?
I write poems for fifty cents a line.
This poem is worth what it’s worth to the families
of two human beings under the age of eighteen
to see them blown to pieces. “Indemnification
for civilian casualties: from eight dollars
and forty cents for a wounded child, on
up to the top sum of thirty-three dollars
and sixty cents for a dead adult.” I tipped
the waiter fifteen percent, which came to nine dollars.
The cab drive was a third of a child. I slept
each night for a fourth of a mother. What are dollars?
I am working on a response to Jeannine’s comments about being able to hear a poem but my shock and sadness about California’s vote on Proposition 8 keeps getting in the way. I give you Alice Oswald‘s poem “The Wedding” which cares not at all what the biology of your lover may be.
From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions…
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.