Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Sandra McPherson: Richard Milhous

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.

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