Per Contra

Summer 2007


Plain Text Version - Poetry

What is Poetry About? by David R. Slavitt



Or, ask, rather what earthly good is it,

when a trivial thing like not being able to find

my silver and amber pillbox can ruin my morning?

Itís somewhere here, I had it yesterday, I couldnít have lost it,

but I canít find it, which is as good as or as bad as.

One ought not to be too attached to objects, of course, and it is uneconomic

to pay a psychiatrist more to hear oneís kvetches about losing, say, a pillbox,

than the thing cost in the first place.  But then think of the vessels

at Balthazarís feast, not just cathected objects,

but holy, stolen out of the Temple by his father, Nebuchadnezzar.

This pillbox was from Krakow, a gift from my daughter.

Weíd had a lovely day at Auschwitz . . . No, seriously, a good day,

with a Purim service at the end of it, and the old men, the remnants, the relicts,

chanting about Haman and his ignominious end in Shushan. 

If youíre going to Auschwitz, you should go erev Purim,

which makes it bearable.  And the pillbox was a memento of that.

So I dug through pockets of trousers and jackets, looked in the nightstand drawer,

peered under the bed, in a trivial but desperate

tizzy.  Not to drag it out too exquisitely,

it was on the floor beside the nightstand, where the cats had knocked it

or left it, after having played a little pillbox hockey,

which is as good as pinecone hockey with what they can snatch

from the guest bathroom potpourri.  And everything was better,

I had it in hand and could relax, or at least stop worrying about that.

Iíve given up looking for the pen one cat or the other knocked off my desk,

not an important pen, but one I liked,

but I have forgiven them because what is the point in not forgiving them?

And they are dear cats, now that Iíve figured out

how their licking each other and then fighting, and then running around like dervishes

reminds me, although I wasnít aware of it at first,

of my mother and my Aunt Vera, because these two are also sisters

and have a similar sororal connection, not altogether pacific

but deeply attached. So I forgive them for this, too,

which is easier, now that I have the pillbox back in my pocket.

Nebuchadnezzar was punished for having taken the vessels from the Temple,

went mad, and, like a beast, ate grass.  Or if he wasnít punished,

he just happened to go mad, which was, to the Jews who observed it,

significant.  More modern ones might simply suggest that he see a shrink

and talk about whatever was bothering him, so that even if he was still unhappy

he would at least stop grazing like a bull in a meadow.

Itís the grass at Auschwitz that is misleading.

A friend of mine who was there, who was really there,

told me that they ate all the grass, not crazy but just hungry.

And poetry?  Is what holds all this together, what keeps me

more or less together, or at least is a way of changing the subject.

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