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Two Poems

Everyday People

The oceans are dying. They require a hero,
or a generation of heroes. The oceans are curdling
in on themselves, and on their constituent lives,
they're rising here, and lowering there,
I swear I've heard them gasping. And my friends ... ?
Are brooding over who their kids are playing with
on the streets. Are coming home after a day where some
midlevel management weasel sucked
their souls out like a yolk from an egg—right through
a tiny puncture-hole in the dome of the skull. The cat
has worms. The price of gas is nearly what
their grandparents' wedding rings cost. The oceans

sorely need a paladin, but my friends are exhausted
disputing how many angels can trample the truth
from a twelve-dollar overcharge on a cell-phone bill.
Our privacy is disappearing, cameras sip it up
like thirsty beasts surrounding a shrinking pool of water, my friends
are worried, oh yes certainly they're worried, but also the tumor
and the marriage and the alcoholic uncle. The war
that's this war but is any war and all war is requesting
a little attention in the cause-part, maybe only
a little more in the effect-part, but my friends know
how impossible it is to attend to even a single other
person sufficiently, plus the dentist, plus the eye exam,
and can't they spend some time renewing their sense
of making beauty in this wreckage, Edie
her hummingbird feeders, Sean his libretto, Omar
his amazing organic noodles: something like Balenciaga

the haute couture designer whose life I'm reading compulsively
while the ice caps and the red tide and the polar bears,
Balenciaga for whom "the business of making beautiful things
absorbed him totally, and there was no room in his life
for anything else," he did a piece of sewing "every day
of his adult life: from the age of three," in 1913 (age eighteen)
"he was learning the women's-wear trade" as the guns
of the World War cleared their throats and aimed, and through
the world depression, "a fishnet cloak
of knotted white velvet, and swathes of parachute silk
to make pink-and-white flowers," and through
the Spanish Civil War, "regarded making dresses
as a vocation, like the priesthood, and an act of worship,"
through (he bargained with Franco) World War II,
chantilly, chenille, mohair, tulle,
"he took the sample of intractable material
into his sanctum and returned in only moments
with a superbly accomplished buttonhole: it
would have been a half-hour's labor for anyone else,"
a buttonhole while Israel was forged in 1948,
a buttonhole for Sputnik, yes a buttonhole,
a perfect—consummate—buttonhole, is this
a condemnation of my friends (and so myself)

or an exoneration? I truly don't know: any more
than I can tell if the boy in Rembrandt's etching
Christ Preaching (circa 1652) is celebrated
or ridiculed (or possibly, with a complicated fondness,
both) for yielding to his innocent daydreams, lost
in drawing figures in the dust on the floor, as only a few
feet overhead, on an impromptu stage in inkily velvet blacks
and the dramatically empty spaces that signify sun,
the Master holds forth with his parables
while a crowd of the commonplace—beggars and burghers—
listen, enrapt. Two-hundred-and-twenty years later,
Adolph von Menzel paints Departure
of King Wilhelm I to His Army on 31 July 1870
; here
we see the fashionable (and patriotically worked-up) throng,
waistcoated men and richly bustled women by the hundreds
as they line that famous avenue of lime trees, gas lamps,
wind-snapped flags, the Unter den Linden, to witness
their king in his cavalcade, off to join the troops
—at age seventy-three!—in defending their nation
against the French ... they look at him, these members
of a time and place, as if they form a single compound eye.
Except for the paper boy, with the day's news
over an arm. He has eyes solely for
a friendly dog on the pavement. Someone has to
sell the Berlinsche Nachrichten (maybe it's
the Berlinsche Zeitung). Someone needs to carve this
personal moment out of that heavy communal block
of pomp, accomplishment, and (soon, at the battle front)
butchery. This crowd ... do they disperse,
go home, and that night dream

my dream of my friends? It comes to me so often these days.
My friends who are busily sorting the glass from the plastic
for the recycling cart. My friends the oil change and tune-up,
the interview, the team to cheer, the argument
and the apology—and some of them the intricate and cheesy
psychological architecture (like the windmill-strewn
and dragon-populated Putt-Putt golf course) of denial
of the need for an apology. My friends the e-mail list
on carbon footprints. And a tad of porn. With guilt,
with beer, with in-laws, with the lawn, with the tuition.
With their lo-cal, and their hi-tech, and deluxe.
I see them gathered, and then falling
down a long and floating drop, not
through an astronomer's darling black hole, not
through Alice's Wonderland rabbit hole, but

falling through a buttonhole,
into the lives of everyday people.


Another poem struck into being by seeing
a vee of geese overhead, a wing-shape

that's composed of its several dozen element-wings
on loan to the greater body. This becomes an argument

(of isolation versus community) given immediate,
visible form; a stream is taking the mountain

away, but at a pace we'll never see—unlike
this sky-adorning passage timed

by mere coincidence to human comprehension.
And we learn, by the absorption of these single, scattered creatures

into one majestic pattern, how a proper use
of "beauty" is in service

to "beatitude"—the rising of a concept
into something more, some larger, further order

of existence. I suspect I'm not
the only one who's stood here with the groceries leaking

out of the paper bag, and the volts that bump in the heart
like small trapped minnows of longing, and our evanescence

burning in the way that a leaf is a green flame
on its ordained path to orange—here, defined

by "the futility of work in the face of destruction"
(the phrase is Rachel Cohen's)—and looked up

to imagine he belonged with them, but
was abandoned, missed the call

to gather and to lift as one, so now
can only stare at their increasing distance,

maybe in the way that, once, the Lost Tribes
looked to see the rest of Israel

continue warring and praying and sowing
and loving by starlight

into the future without them.

Albert Goldbarth

Everyday People
Graywolf Press

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