By David Barber
What if it were possible to vanquish
All this shame with a wash of varnish
Instead of wishing the stain would vanish?
What if you gave it a glossy finish?
What if there were a way to burnish
All this foolishness, all the anguish?
What if you gave yourself leave to ravish
All these ravages with famished relish?
What if this were your way to flourish?
What if the self you love to punish —
Knavish, peevish, wolfish, sheepish —
Were all slicked up in something lavish?
Why so squeamish? Why make a fetish
Out of everything you must relinquish?
Why not embellish what you can’t abolish?
What would be left if you couldn’t brandish
All the slavishness you’ve failed to banish?
What would you be without this gibberish?
What if the true worth of the varnish
Were to replenish your resolve to vanquish
Every vain wish before you vanish?
Source: Poetry (March 2013)
David Barber is poetry editor of The Atlantic, where he has been a staff editor since 1994. Barber has taught writing and literature at Middlebury College, the Harvard Writing Program, MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, and the Emerson College graduate writing program. He also writes on natural history, music, and art.
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