Copies of my poems went on sale at Odegard Books,
The precise word is remaindered,
Marked down from three ninety five to just the ninety five,
And it hit me that this gambit by the bookstore
Was just what people had been waiting for.
Sure, you expect people to hold back,
Especially at today's prices. Three ninety five is
A piece of change, no doubt about it,
And there must be people who thumb the book
And pat it with one hand as if weighing the
Poems against the expense, the expense against
The poems, take one step toward the cashier
And then fail in their purpose, put the book back
In the rack, and pick up a copy of American Poetry Review,
Beautiful things wonderfully said,
For under three dollars, a wonderful buy, instead.
But who could balk at ninety five cents,
Why, that's less than a dollar with a nickel left over,
You could buy the poems and have enough to
Handle the sales tax, nineteen for the poet and
One for the State of Minnesota and its beautiful
Forests and waterfowl.
[Actually, all nineteen don't go to the poet. I was
Promised a ten percent royalty, which meant forty cents
On the full price, and the fine print here says
When a book goes remainder there isn't really
Any royalty at all, but I don't care, I didn't
Write them for the forty cents, you see,
I wrote them for this feeling I'm having right now
Of breaking through, of getting out,
Of seeing the birds I'd stored in the box
Fly out of it, white wings fair
clapping the morning air.]
Ninety five cents for thirty five poems,
That's less than three pennies apiece. Here's one
About some weeds growing in sidewalk cracks,
So what, it's only six lines long but at three cents
Who's going to complain? Here's another,
A beautiful lyric, a love poem connecting
To the Italian futurist movement of the nineteen-teens,
It was published in a number of respected magazines,
For less than three cents you won't need a vacation tour
This year, just read the words and feel their awful power.
Or the final poem, I call it "The Light," which was all
My life in sonnet length, how there were things
I thought I always wanted, but when I got them they were
Different, or I was unable to recognize them -- such pathos
As would melt the stony heart, and I lay it all down
For you, vulnerable, small, the shattered clown,
The paper trembles with the grief of truth,
Because here it is, softcover renascence,
And all it costs is three lousy cents.
My ear to the ground I can detect the build
Of momentum, people swearing off bad habits forever,
People afraid to look one another in the eye
Now looking and seeing the pain and love that had been there
All along, now reaching out, fingertips touching,
The sting of tears collecting in the corners
Of millions and thousands, the soft collapse
Of a hundred brittle barriers of reason and attitude
Finally available, the incandescent word
At prices the masses can afford.
Let us go now, you and I, to Odegards.
For life has many sales but few true bargains.
Let us take the silver coins and hand them to the person
And remember to ask for the receipt, if you're a poet
Your whole life is deductible.
Oh daughters of Homer gather round his knees
And hear him sing his saltstrong songs.
There are myriad of you there,
A speckled galaxy of brave little lights,
Fresh washed garments tucked under your knees,
Eager for instruction and keen for meaning,
He cannot see you but he hears you breathing.
WHEN WE ARE GONE
When we are gone and the plates of the earth
and the cupboards rattle and the rafters sift,
and the groaning household teeters on the brink
and the song of consciousness decays,
what calendar will cordone off its days?
When we are gone and the rub of reaching fills the world,
and root and branch and tongue and paw
all strain as one for what is just beyond,
sugar, sunshine, water, meat,
and the hummingbird suspended in the air,
what mind, what glance encapsulates it there?
When we are gone and the dust of our doing has flown
and there are no longer angels and no men,
And our home and our skin and our story of love
give way to hozannas of flies,
what spectators swarm the empty choir,
sockets twitching with surmise?
When we are gone and meaning loses meaning
though your molecules and my molecules
are plucked apart and strewn
across this raw unwitnessable scene
they are better for that blink of time,
forgotten in the giddy sprawl of green.
Published February 11, 1996
Copyright (c) 1996 by Michael Finley.
All rights reserved.
2096 Dayton Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104-5733
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