Tag Archives: society



If a poem is about a cat
many come to read and love
one of the truest loves they know.

If a poem is about a river
or the ocean or a sunset
interest is sure to grow.

If a poem artfully confesses
a deep yearning or a wound,
many gather to console–

if it surfs toward sex
the text is dropped
for a lace camisole.

But if it’s just about a stark
unsentimental basic loneliness
grasping a truth by metaphor

chances are its limits
may be transcendental
but mean nothing at the bar.

*with apologies to my friend, Marta Nussbaum Steele, who once presented a poem by this title on the dissecting table of a poetry  workshop in Harvard Square.  I had been reading T.S. Eliot’ s “The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism” and was enjoying a classic double martini when these lines occurred in the space of ten minutes.



One after another, those of the condolence queue,
wearing whatever passes now for sunday clothes,
snake across the chapel carpet to review
the body.  Say how sorry.  Look morose.

Those of the right religion stop and kneel.
Some even reach to touch the corpse, who dare
to know how a dead hand might feel,
then cross themselves and murmur a small prayer.

A parish priest arrives to lead the rosary;
the lapsed, the unbelievers, sneak out for a smoke.
Who sent which flowers?  We must nose and see.
A distant relative retells his funeral joke.

At ten the undertaker flashes lights.
Everyone leaves.  Nobody says goodnight.