Two Thirteen-Line Poems on How We Need a New Poem

Christmas, 2006 / No. 17

But only a good one. Hammer, mine the day.

Have other poems dropped like depth charges

to break something loose, picture a tight-lipped

brigadier, reciting a roll call, “Acorn, Akhmatova,”

loaded—fired against the circle of whiteness

surrounding the city—reload—and again.

And old women, helping the effort, walk

the streets beating pans to flush out a poem,

report that an old Chinese man looked into

Wah Fook Seafood Trading and smiled, lifted

the stick of an arm and waved gently like a king.

I need something more, comes the reply, more than

police cruisers sailing the streets like sharks.

The young man on the street corner is always there,

growing the thin film of hostility on the inside

of his frame, that much extra weight in a bucket—

heart stamping each day like a blown tire,

not speaking because he knows his voice would sound

like an angry dog—his pet rats lined up on his arm

even seem frightened, as though on a sinking ship,

the sign reading, “OUT OF WORK, OUT OF HOME, PLEASE

HELP. THANK YOU.” Nobody from the passing

stream stops to think if he were God, quietly there,

even a dollar would get you into heaven.

He knows, instead, the fussing crow wing

of a broken umbrella, waving him away.