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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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