A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
He, like everyone
got birds and flowers and his feelings all mixed up
as his diary permitted him to.
He was ill-favored and uncraved and yet had we known
his secret life we would have perceived his lying
as a form of gentleness:
flocculent, we visualize to describe it.
For there is not much to envision, nothings
or very few. We can’t count programs and safety-measures;
negotiations and intelligence-gathering
can’t be pinned down. He was a man
whose very body disappeared into his clothes,
leaving a thinking face dark as woods to appeal.
So that when one of his circle, encountering
what little evidence there was,
the forced door, the pried cabinets,
the uproar of papers as dawn began to reveal them,
saw that coversion actually touched things,
he was taken aback. Havoc. With mere candle-
like examination gloves, mothily powdered inside,
the slim lock picks —
Even these few things were enough to distract his senses.
Even memory because palpable and an object of pity
and pity a justification for lying, as we might understand one
who blessed with a nose cruelly comic
fails to laugh, weeps
into the expanse of starlight and the White House lawn.
Someone both great and mean,
bold and vacillating, with large blind spots
in a remarkable farsightedness, a split decision . . .
It was dusk. He lifted the lid.
The music box played “Hail to the Chief,” slowing a little at the end.
“Been a year,” he said and walked into the January night.
Emotional men are born poor.
“What if I had been born a woman?” Having reached man’s end,
he could see reforging,
bright metallic obstacles swung into place, a gallery to working parts.
Emotional men face in to see the dawn,
feel silver roofs steam, mourn that the people whose lives are in
their hands look small enough to fit there.
Emotional men, like women with no domesticity,
are cowed by a great house —
dyed rooms of every mood,
sierra parlors of state with eagles,
crannies beneath furnaces . . .
“Politics is poetry. Not prose, no matter how good.
Mood. Emotion. Oh, you can’t do it often,
but once in a while, at a historic moment, you need the poetry.”
So you speak to your source, tranquil ventriloquist.
It has saved all the words. It will do something on your behalf.
It will be poetry and erase the awkward business of the material between
dawn and mountains, your favorite images.
This version, published in Certain Uncollected Poems, Ostrakon Press, 2012, is revised from “He, Like Everyone,” which appeared in Poetry, February 1979.