Here’s a story. My first job, at fifteen, was in a bakery, Cleaning the vast foul pots and kettles and baking pans At night, for hours, alone, with horrifying chemicals, & Finally locking the shop and trudging home in the dark. I hated it from the first hour but I couldn’t quit instantly Because I was afraid to be teased and be mortified. This Went on a week. The back door to the bakery was in an Alley that looked like a good place to get shot. One day As I shuffled sadly down the alley I saw a slumped man Sitting by the back door, smoking. I didn’t know him & Figured I was about to get rolled. I was sort of relieved, To be honest, because then I’d have a decent excuse for Quitting. But when I got there the man stood up, and he Said boy, I run the shop next door, and I see you in here Working, and I bet you have not eaten, and that’s awful Hard work, I know how that guy leaves his kitchenware, So here’s a sandwich. Now, it’s not from me exactly but From my wife who has a real sharp eye. So there you go. I quit a few days later, and at my dad’s instruction I quit Face to face with the baker, who was furious, and it was No fun at all, but then I went and said thanks to the lady. Even now sometimes I see that man smoking in the alley, And standing up, and being kind to a kid he didn’t know. Even now I’ll be walking along and suddenly there he is, Waiting to be kind. We think we are alone but we aren’t.
O the very fact that there are friends who write with their hands Even if just the forefingers hammering away on keyboards, and Also then print out the resulting muddle and scrawl and scribble And pop it in the postbox! The lickable areas on the envelopes! The Return Address Just in Case! The choice of stamps, and we All blessedly have friends who carefully choose their stamps, & Stand in line at the post office asking for the ones with Authors, Or members of the Simpson family, or stamps with Polar Bears! And the fact that there are fifty addresses in your memory, some Of them no longer inhabited by the people you loved to write to; Much like your mind retains past phone numbers and exchanges, Like Mayfair and Ludlow and Allegheny and Cypress and Tulip! And the fact that you can draw all morning on an envelope or by God paint it flagrantly with horses and angels, and your postman Will deliver it anyway! Probably grinning at the nut who mailed It to you! And you can put a few grains of sand inside your note, From the beach we went to as children, or a feather from a hawk Who glared in the window like an insurance adjuster with talons, Or a painting by a child, or a photograph of four of the names of That which we call God for lack of a better label. Even the folds Of the paper, and the paperness of the paper, and the fact that it’s All about miracles and affection, which is to say, of course, love! Sure it is. All the good parts are about love, in all its many masks.
Here’s my question. What if there was a poem That didn’t know what it was about until it got To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t To play with imagery and cadence and metrical Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just Keep going in order to find out that the poem is About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix. If I had been the boss of this poem I would have Made it so they can manage things, or I could be The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father; But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about, It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter: No one knows what’s going to happen, and there Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage. Some poems you can leave when they thrash too Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson Here about literature, about how you have to sing Without knowing the score . . . something like that. All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.