Poetry and the World

for Denise Duhamel

In the world of some poets
there are no Cheerios or Poptarts, no hot dogs
tumbling purgatorially on greasy rollers,
only chestnuts and pomegranates,
the smell of freshly baked bread,
summer vegetables in red wine, simmering.
  
In the world of some poets
lucid stars illumine us
as we waltz with long-necked swans in fields
flush with wildflowers and waving grasses,
  
there are no windowless classrooms,
no bare, dangling bulbs,
no anxious corridors of fluorescent tubes.
  
In the world of some poets
there is no money and no need
to earn it, no health insurance,
no green cards, no unceremonious toil.
  
And how can we believe in that world
when the man who must clean up after the reading
waits impatiently outside the door
in his putty-colored service uniform,
and the cubes of cheese at the reception
taste like ashes licked from a bicycle chain,
when the desk-tops and mostly-empty seats
have been inscribed with gutter syllabics
by ballpoint pens gripped tight as chisels,
and the few remaining students are green
as convalescents narcotized by apathy?
  
But—that's alright. Poetry
can handle it.
  
Poetry is a capacious vessel, with no limits
to its plasticity, no end to the thoughts and feelings
it can accommodate,
no restrictions upon the imaginings
it can bend through language into being.
  
Poetry is not the world.
We cannot breathe its atmosphere,
we cannot live there, but we can visit,
like sponge divers in bulbous copper helmets
come to claim some small portion
of the miraculous.
  
And when we leave we must remember
not to surface too rapidly,
to turn off the lights in the auditorium
and lock the office door—there have been thefts
at the university in recent weeks.
  
We must remember not to take the bridge
still under construction, always under construction,
  
to stop on the causeway for gas
  
and pick up a pack of gum at the register,
and a bottle of water,
and a little sack of plantain chips,
  
their salt a kind of poem, driving home.
The Custodian and Other Poems
Campbell McGrath
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The Custodian and Other Poems

Campbell McGrath

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