By Robert Pinsky
The jaunty crop-haired graying
Women in grocery stores,
Their clothes boyish and neat,
New mittens or clean sneakers,
Clean hands, hips not bad still,
Buying ice cream, steaks, soda,
Fresh melons and soap—or the big
Balding young men in work shoes
And green work pants, beer belly
And white T-shirt, the porky walk
Back to the truck, polite; possible
To feel briefly like Jesus,
A gust of diffuse tenderness
Crossing the dark spaces
To where the dry self burrows
Or nests, something that stirs,
Watching the kinds of people
On the street for a while—
But how love falters and flags
When anyone’s difficult eyes come
Into focus, terrible gaze of a unique
Soul, its need unlovable: my friend
In his divorced schoolteacher
Apartment, his own unsuspected
Paintings hung everywhere,
Which his wife kept in a closet—
Not, he says, that she wasn’t
Perfectly right; or me, mis-hearing
My rock radio sing my self-pity:
“The Angels Wished Him Dead”—all
The hideous, sudden stare of self,
Soul showing through like the lizard
Ancestry showing in the frontal gaze
Of a robin busy on the lawn.
In the movies, when the sensitive
Young Jewish soldier nearly drowns
Trying to rescue the thrashing
Anti-semitic bully, swimming across
The river raked by nazi fire,
The awful part is the part truth:
Hate my whole kind, but me,
Love me for myself. The weather
Changes in the black of night,
And the dream-wind, bowling across
The sopping open spaces
Of roads, golf courses, parking lots,
Flails a commotion
In the dripping treetops,
Tries a half-rotten shingle
Or a down-hung branch, and we
All dream it, the dark wind crossing
The wide spaces between us.
Robert Pinsky, “Poem About People” from Sadness and Happiness. Copyright © 1975 by Princeton University Press, renewed 2003. Reprinted with the permission of Princeton University Press.
Source: The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996)
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