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The Man In the Poetry Lounge

ISSUE:  Summer 1992

at Berkeley is reading English
pastoral poetry with passive
abandon, chewing his thumbnail
aggressively. He wants

to see grass, he wants to
BE grass so badly he can
almost smell it. Outside,
they are cutting the grass—

the man and the mower—they are
dressing and keeping the garden.
They are not far enough away
from my hay fever, but the man

reading pastorals is off—
zeroing in on calmer places.
Have the birds arrived yet?
Have the larks and nightingales

made their appearance? I would like
to ask him to let me know
when he gets to the birds. I would like
to concentrate then and there, and lose

what I have read about Flanders
and Picardy and the trenches of W.W.I:
the larks appearing around the time
of stand-to in the morning,

the nightingales showing up
by stand-to at night. I would like never
to have learned that they were there.
But instead, because my nose is running,

my eyes are getting smaller by the minute,
and I’m edgy, I’ll ask him sweetly
if he’s bothered at home
by bedbugs, rats, or lice,

and justify the question with an explanation:
I myself am bothered by fleas.
This is why I keep scratching—
which act I hope he does not find

distracting because, really,
who am I to ruin his birds.
I who cannot, as you have seen,
follow those trenches to their

logical conclusion. Instead, I too
have searched long, and found
that in the gentle arc
of a pig’s back there really is

a thought to calm the thinker—
if, that is, the pig be tame.
I want to know if this man
loves what he is reading—

and if he loves it enough
in what way it will change him.
Are we onto something real now
or is this all about planting

a false goose in front of the moon?
Do the iambics soothe him? Is he
big on true rhyme and false conclusion,
the sonic hanky—you wipe your eyes

you blow your nose. Which I will
have to leave this room to do.

But not before I’ve resisted
coming right out and asking

if he’s fulfilling the requirements
of heart or mind, and asked instead
what it’s my true right to know
(involving, as it does, the heat

of concentration and the problem
of public safety, as in MY safety):
if his shirt, which I’ll begin
by calling handsome, has passed

the requirements of the flammable
fabrics act. Then I’ll
step out and blow my nose,
at which point I might as well wander

back on down toward Cody’s and try
to receive the world, browsing
and scratching in the poetry section,
after buying a paper poppy for a dollar—

the one you didn’t want to know was coming—
the Flanders—from a veteran of foreign wars
at Telegraph and Durant—not,
of course, looking at his left leg—

because I can’t, —because it isn’t there.

Because I can’t.


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