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John Balaban: Two Poems

The Poet Retires

“I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight”
–Theodore Roethke, “Dolor”


When the poet said goodbye to the workaday world
along with all its yammer and strife,
he took off for his cabin in the woods
with no regrets. He had his books. Looking out
across the autumn woods, the stirring branches
seemed to make his thoughts come alive and rise
on the wind to greet him. After a long walk
by the creek that ran down past the cabin,
he poured himself a drink, and put on a record.
Instead of his usual Charlie Parker, he put on Iggy Pop
reciting a poem from the Avenue B album
“my home and study meant more to me…
I wanted to find a balance between joy and dignity
on my way out. Above all, I didn’t want
to take any more shit. Not from anybody.”

Three Men Dancing on a River Shore
(Ch’ing Dynasty Serving Platter, Blue-and-White Porcelain)
In the background, you can see the city they left behind
when they crossed the river to dance on this shore,
three gentlemen in mandarin robes and scruffy beards
now jigging on the sand under pines and willows
accompanied by musicians on trumpet, flute, and drum
and one plying a squeeze-box of some kind
for these scholars waving their hands above their heads,
kicking up sand and celebrating friendship, their dharma bridge
for getting to the other side, however briefly.

Three men dancing. Not drunk, just immensely amused
knowing that soon enough there would be only the wind
shushing its sad music along an empty shore.

Copyright 2019 John Balaban. From Empires by John Balaban (Copper                                                                                                                   Canyon Press, 2019)

John Balaban is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose. His awards include The Academy of American Poets’ Lamont Prize, the National Poetry Series, the William Carlos Williams Award, the George Garrett Award, and a medal from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam for his translations of poetry and his restoration of ancient texts. 

8 comments on “John Balaban: Two Poems

  1. D fbrown
    November 15, 2022

    Splendid poems and man!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Jones
    October 4, 2022

    John, What a wonderful use of “Dolor” (a great poem on its own) and Iggy Pop — yammer and strife giving way to joy and dignity. No wonder the three men are dancing.


  3. loranneke
    October 4, 2022

    I, too, am always surprised, delighted, moved and enriched by John’s poems — thanks, Michael, for posting his work!


  4. Barbara Huntington
    October 4, 2022

    Why did I wait a lifetime to explore poetry?. Why is my mind so full of whys today?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sean Sexton
    October 4, 2022

    He is among our greatest! Such a fine man with an amazing past. We became friends a short while ago and i count myself lucky. I love every poem in Empires!


    • Vox Populi
      October 4, 2022

      Thanks, Sean. John is a great poet and translator.



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This entry was posted on October 4, 2022 by in Humor and Satire, Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , , , , .

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