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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)

  • Love
  • Relationships
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Robert Pinsky
While serving as U.S. Poet Laureate for an unprecedented three terms from 1997 to 2000, Robert Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, which gave a voice to America’s vigorous and varied poetry audience. Pinsky has been active as a critic, poet, and translator of verse. Currently, Pinsky is a professor at Boston University and the poetry editor for the online magazine, Slate; he has also written the “Poet’s Choice” column for the Washington Post, and has made cameo appearances on the popular television show The Simpsons and The Colbert Report. See More By This Poet

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