Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A stab at poetry

I don't fancy myself a poet. I've never really studied poetry and my attitude towards it has always been "I don't know a lot, but I know what I like." Most of my attempts at writing a poem end up being lyrics to songs that with a few exceptions remain uncomposed. But here's one that I've kept. It's from 2000 and details a true event: me walking to work dressed for a client meeting and being kept off my pace by a large homeless man walking slowly ahead of me.

He Walked Ahead
He walked ahead of me
Homeless, aimless
Mind full of short-term concerns:
The next butt, the next half-eaten dog
The next quarter, the next fifth
Downwind, my sympathy suspends
His hair filthy, thickly matted
The unintended dreadlock
Poverty headlock
The slow, nowhere-to-go gait
On this narrow sidewalk
I can’t get ahead of him
It’s his advantage over me
And he doesn’t even care
He doesn’t even know
I have somewhere to go
Somewhere to be, now
But I’m left behind
To stare at his cow-pie hair
His jacket dirty, slept in, worn out
His shoes, ill-fitting, sides splitting
And the faster I walk the closer I get
Traffic slows, a parked-car gap
Sidestep to the street
A brisker pace, a change of place
Now, finally, I’m ahead of him
On my way, yet I think to look back
To see him seeing me from behind
My clean combed hair
My calf-length coat
My brush-buffed shoes
So I cast back a glance
And find that he’s stopped
Bent, reaching for a coin
He turns and goes the other way.

We each got what we were waiting for.

© Jason M. Rubin, 11/1/00. All Rights Reserved.
To salvage this post, here's a real poem, a longtime favorite of mine. I think one reason why I like it is that it reminds me of a story my mother used to tell. She was not what you'd call a dark, edgy individual by any means, but she lamented her whole life losing a writing competition (in which she'd entered a tale of a severed hand that came to life to exact its revenge) to a classmate who wrote a story about a boy and his dog.

"OUT, OUT -"

Robert Frost

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them 'Supper'. At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap--
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh.
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all--
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart--
He saw all spoiled. 'Don't let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!'
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then -- the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little -- less -- nothing! -- and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

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