Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Poem a Day: 30! The last one.

When the End of the World Comes

I'm going to be in my kitchen, washing oatmeal
out of a plastic bowl, or soaping my aging body

in a hot hot shower, turning red, or perhaps dreaming
that I'm babysitting my friends' toddler and messing it

all up, or outside in my backyard, on my knees,
trying to figure out how to plant tulip bulbs, and iris,

digging in the dirt by the garage in old gloves
that catch the sweat at my fingertips, grunting and

cursing gardens and flowers and my stupid impulse
to keep the pretense up, or my love of the luscious

petals peeking up in spring, the drive that has me out here
as if praying in the dirt at the world comes to a close.

On the other hand, it makes more sense that I'll be
in front of a classroom jammed with bored undergrads,

9:30 AM, their heads bobbing on their stems as they surf
in and out of a doze, and I'll be waxing more and more

rhapsodic--as if to wake them from their torpor--extolling
the power of a short story by Sherman Alexie, describing how

he flips our stereotypes about Native Americans, revealing them
to be human beings with the same longings and needs

as the rest, the same damage and sadness, but facing greater odds,
and how he makes us appreciate storytellers and still

feel deeply sorry for them, nerds and orphans, social exiles,
as they strip themselves naked to the passion bone every day,

spinning tales out of the polluted air, and yet their neighbors and
once-friends walk past them as if they already don't exist.

Why?  Because, I'll be saying, like the rest of us, they've let the world
beat the love out of them--love of stories, love of family--

and the epiphany that they need each other more than money,
more than fame, more (even) than respect.  Listen, I'll say,

heating up as the world pinches to a sudden close,
like the rest of us, they're all already half dead, living their own

private apocalypse, treading the floodwaters of despair,
alcoholism, poverty, racism and self-hatred, the crushing

of their culture under the wheel of the "American" (television,
shopping malls, drugs, power).  Oh, I'll say, heating

up even more, sweating under what I have to deliver to them,
they're all living in invisible prisons -- the reservation,

masculinity, marginality -- don't you see?  We can't forget
the stories.  When the end of the world comes, I'll be trying

my damndest to get my sleepy students to see the beauty
in the storyteller's slow unraveling of self, in his continual

act of sacrifice, the way he tells the truth but no one
listens, only we have to listen, it's the only way to survive

the agony of living, and they'll be in their seats looking
through me with the same gaze as the storyteller's ex-

best friend, the one who nearly beat him to death once
on a basketball court, because he was bored and frustrated

and had reached the end of his leash already, they'll be
staring at me with pity and wonder, amused but distant,

idly speculating about what might make me wave my arms
with such abandon, as the light outside grows suddenly

infinite -- wondering what everything means, at last, and
what it all matters, if anything, in the end.

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