Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jan 29, 2013 As I Was Saying


Here’s a poem by a guy I don’t know much about, who apparently teaches at Virginia Tech, and who apparently used to be a manufacturing executive. His name is Bob Hicok. I found this poem (from an old New Yorker) amongst a pile of crap most of which was getting thrown out during my most recent house move. I figured (or “figgered” for the Tammy Beamses in the audience) I’d kept it for some reason, and sure enough, the reason is I have nothing else to share today. I think what originally caught me in this poem was the conversational tone and the great non-sequiturs. He leaps from topic to memory to thought with nimble ease. Some of you might know what museum he’s talking about near the end. I was also tugged back into an old favorite, “Mercy on Broadway,” which we’ve read twice before. In that poem the speaker is 41 and is gazing at the turtles for sale on a Manhattan sidewalk. Here the speaker is 42 and tries to save turtles from getting squished. What can I say, I’m slowly becoming both of them. -ed.

Long, thin clouds as if the sky were smoking.

I tell it to stop or share, it doesn’t stop or share,

this is what happens to my requests: they rise.

When I was a kid, a neighbor man

had a few and tied a cherry bomb to a pigeon,

it flew furiously until kaboom. Feathers

and bits of what made the pigeon go

landed on the Smitky twins playing hopscotch,

they looked up, I looked at them looking up,

two of everything the same, as if their parents

knew the odds of needing a spare. My wife

wants to fly in a hot-air balloon. I say to her,

I’ll wait here with the turtles. I try to save them

from getting squished when they cross the road.

They don’t know it’s a road or what a road

is for, getting away is what a road is for,

then coming back, then wondering why you came back

is what a road is for. My wife’s people

are Ukrainian, beets are important to them.

I tried to arm-wrestle her father once, he said,

Why would I do that: if I beat your arm,

the rest of you will want revenge.

I never looked at it that way. Forty-two years now

I’ve tried to look at it that way. The other day,

some kids knocked a ball through our window,

one of them asked for it back, I said, Sure,

if you give me the bat. He did, then asked

for the bat, I said, If you give me the ball,

he started to hand it over when I saw understanding

bloom in his face. That never happened for me:

understanding blooming in my face. Not the way

I wanted it to. So I’ll die and someone

will have to deal with what’s left, the body,

the shoes, the socks. The last person on Earth

will just be dead: not buried or mourned

or missed. As with kites, I cut the string

when they’re way up, because who’d want to come back.

So somewhere are all these kites, as somewhere

are all the picture frames from the camps,

and the bows from hair, and the hair itself

I saw once in a museum, some of it, in a room

all its own, as if one day the heads

would come back and think, That’s where I put you,

as I do with keys when I find them in my hand.



Jan 21, 2013 Closing Chorus from “The Cure at Troy”

Dear readers,

Thanks for bearing with us through that accidental 4-week hiatus. Away from a computer, busy, distracted, traveling–these are my excuses. But as long ago as December I’d realized that in the weeks following a horrific shooting, I’d missed a chance to put poetry to one if its other uses: healing. On the radio this week some folks were talking about MLK day and some of his speeches, and someone said, “He believed, to borrow a phrase, in a future where hope and history rhyme.” I didn’t know that phrase was so famous, but one hears reference to it every now and then. It’s a line from Seamus Heaney’s long verse re-telling of the Greek myth of Philoctetes, a character in The Iliad, which he titled “The Cure at Troy.” (first published by the Field Day Theatre Company in 1990). A critic at the time called it a “purifying play,” and it’s a story of personal morality amid encompassing carnage. The lines below, an excerpt, are among the most-quoted from the heavily-quoted Heaney, and I hope they will offer you some perspective or optimism in these days of new years and new beginnings. -ed.


Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.