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ISSUE:  Winter 1991
To Bartleby

There is the sky and here
is the grass,
he said to you,
but you couldn’t be fooled.

Not much has changed.
Nearby is the slavish city
and once upon a time
there was a God.
You’d be among our homeless,
nameless and cold.
The elms are dead, and fires
have taken acres of pines.
You’d never be able to tell
that the ocean has changed.
Here is the wind
and there are the balloons
the children have let go.
I know where I am, you said;
office, prison,
all the same to you.
There’s the path
up the mountain where often
bear tracks have been seen,
and here the trees on which lovers
carved their names.
First they grew apart,
they they died.
The bears were interested
in berries. Like you,
they kept to themselves.
Love would have changed
everything for you,
but Melville was wise;
you’d have been forgettable,
bringing the costly bacon home.
The imagination still opens the door
we hesitate before,
still turns on the light.
Here is the book
in which you live
and here is what you’ve spawned:
drop-outs, slackards,
and a kind of dignity, a quaint
contagious way to refuse.
In the face of decency
how did you see the absurd?
The system still shows
its sweetest face, still sends out
an honest man with a smile.
Here are the foul-mouthed
gorgeous gulls,
and these are the walls
in which we live,
in which your heirs
call themselves free.
It’s the end of the century;
almost everyone dreams of money
or revenge.


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