“Oh, awful. Sickening. The stats alone
could make your stomach turn. The other day
I told my friend, it can’t go on this way—
the ritual where these leaders just condone,
or smirk and turn their backs—or else bemoan
our ‘loss of values’ and pretend to pray…
You know, you think: a few used to display
a little strength of character, backbone…
And now we’re all just left (you’re sure? oh, thanks)
wondering, where’s the line? How many traumas
before we shake the numbness off, close ranks—
make sacrifices, right?—take active measures…
—No, I should, too. I’m swamped. Oh, no, the pleasure’s
mine. I’ve got the check next time, I promise.”

The Gods of Poetry

They won’t be bought with fawning.
No need to call them “gods.”
You and they know that they and you
are natural frauds.

They won’t be lured by virtue.
In their den it’s understood:
A good poem’s not a poem that makes
the poet look good.

Intentions are their breakfast,
triumphs their midnight snack.
They eat the elegant jacket photo

If all the earth caught fire tonight,
they might be moved to save
three stalks of wheat, a ball of twine,
and a limestone cave.

For Grigori Perelman

Russian mathematician and recluse, b. 1966

Who proved the “soul conjecture,” beard and eyes
aflame, warlocklike; who substantiated
the stubborn, grand Conjecture formulated
by Poincaré; who, with baroque contempt
for process, threw the second proof online—
cast it before a world of fellow swine—
turned down the Fields and the Millennium Prize
(citing some convoluted private rule),

and shut the door. Who isn’t rich or kempt.
Martyr, monastic brooder, holy fool—
what has he proved by hiding all these years?
Some say he picks wild mushrooms now; some say
he plucks fruit higher than the Poincaré
(which has, I’m told, something to do with spheres).

A Ballad for George Bailey

It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

Your town your streets your closing walls
Home of the tree your wife is trimming
You both fell backward gasping swimming

Sputtering—too much life too soon
Made up a joke about the moon
You both agreed you’d half believe
Your brain’s on fire it’s Christmas Eve

The snow is plunging through the dark
The piano’s pounding Hark Hark Hark
The Angels La La Peace on Earth
To hell with everything since birth

In Mudville

Oh, somewhere in the alleys they’ve begun another game,
And the crowd still finds it thrilling, but the rules aren’t quite the same,
And the layoffs at the gasworks have the watchmen carrying knives,
And the mayor wakes in dreams before a council of ex-wives.

Coyotes sniff the windowsills; the downtown streetlamps flicker;
The grown-ups look so solemn, all their teenage children snicker;
The men have special difficulty speaking to their fathers.
Mighty Casey finds it hardest. Nowadays he hardly bothers.