P O E M
You've probably right away noticed
the title of this poem is "Poem"
and that's because this is exactly
what I plan on writing—in fact
I've already begun, sort of.
I still need to find a subject
for such a serious theme—
nothing too trivial or self-conscious.
We've all read poems called "Poem"
about would-be lovers or pie-bald foals,
levitating saints or the flowering
of transplanted trees, and I
of transplanted trees, and I
figure a poem called "Poem"
ought to be about something
likewise worthy and dignified. But all that
sort of stuff seems to be taken.
After finding a topic (we haven't
but it's more important to keep
the damn thing moving) next up
is the proper tone, which can't be
too solemn—that's been covered
by folks like Thomas Hardy
who let's face it I'm not gonna top—
but also not too clever, some middle
ground, tattooed chemo-nurse
or stepmom-at-a-rifle-range type
of deal. We don't for example
want this poetry professor who's
been at the lectern the past hour
attempting to detonate himself
with hip locutions in
between gray mastodons of verbiage,
proving he's down with Motown despite
being so freakishly erudite.
In the midst of his many-sectioned opus
on the history of the human condition,
somewhere between Pol Pot
and the advent of the bikini,
I begin wishing he would instead
read us a poem about his embarrassing
throwing arm, on display at second base
in the poetry vs. prose softball game
at the M.F.A picnic. The fact
that he's six-four made it all
the more heartbreaking and I
wondered, as the ball died
in the dirt well short of first,
as creative-nonfiction writers circled the bases,
how he survived his childhood.
Was there a father or uncle on the scene
to stave off the catastrophe,
hurling fastball and "Attaboy"s
in the back yard while Mother
peeked through the kitchen blinds?
Were schoolyard bullies happy
to assist with his emasculation,
or did he have kind friends, a cohort
of thoughtful children with international parents
who cared about politics and dance
and used star fruit in their cooking?
Or was it poetry that led him
being able to move in the world,
marry, reproduce, and eventually take
the field, pound a mitt, and be
naked among the people he loves?
published in The New Yorker, April 16, 2012, pp 84-85
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I wouldn't have noticed if it wasn't for Facebook, that today, May 30th, is the last day of National Poetry Month. I wouldn't have known it was National Poetry Month at all, since I don't pay much attention to those sorts of things. But one of my "friends"—who I think I met maybe once—posted a link to a reading of T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land" and I remembered a poem I read aloud to my husband the other night, a longish poem I thought was very funny and poignant.
The poem is lovely, particularly for its last lines. Because they capture what it is to grow comfortable in one's own skin. I suppose this is the glory of middle age: to no longer be neurotically self-concerned, to find it in you to expose your weaknesses in full sunlight—perhaps not heedlessly, but at least with a sense of humor.
I cannot say I am there. I still have enough neurotic self-concern to fuel a small city. I strive, though. I can see it, that ease that says not when I am... but heck, as I am, now. Because being who I am is all I'll ever be. I'm not going to become, though some feat of exertion, someone more glamorous, chatty, fluttery or athletic. I am just me, and I can be naked, here, with those I love. Heck, even those I do not love.