Robert Pinsky’s recent book of poetry is his Selected Poems. Other publications include his best-selling translation The Inferno of Dante and The Life of David, a prose account of the Biblical king. As Poet Laureate of the United States, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, with the videos at www.favoritepoem.org.
The little bright yellow ones
In the January rain covering the earth
Of the whole bare orchard
Billions waving above the dense clumps
Of their foliage, wild linoleum of silly
Green and yellow. Gray bark dripping.
Or the formal white cones tree-shaped
Against the fans of dark leaf
Balanced as prettily in state
As the wife of the king of the underground
Come with palms on her hips to claim the golden apple of the sun.
Sexual parts; presents. Stylized to a central
O ringed by radiant lobes or to the wrapped
Secret of the rose. Even potatoes have them.
In his dead eyeholes
The clownish boy who drowned
In the tenth grade––Carl Reiman!––wears them
Lear wears them and my dead cousins
Stems tucked under the armpit
Buttons of orange in the mouth,
In a vernal jig they are propelled by them:
Dead bobbing in floral chains and crowns
Knee lifted by the pink and fuchsia
Half-weightless resurrection of heel and toe,
A spaceman rhumba. Furled white cup
Handfuls of violet on limp stems
The brittle green stalk held between arm and side
Of one certain dead poet––
And they push us away: when with aprons
Of petals cupped at our chin
We try to join the dance they put
Their cold hands on our chest
And push us away, saying No
We don’t want you here yet—No, you ae not
Beautiful and finished like us.
SONG OF REASONS
Because of the change of key midway in “Come Back to Sorrento”
The little tune comes back higher, and everyone feels
A sad smile beginning. Also customary is the forgotten reason
Why the Dukes of Levis-Mirepoix are permitted to ride horseback
Into the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Their family is so old
They killed heretics in Languedoc seven centuries ago;
Yet they are somehow Jewish, and therefore the Dukes claim
Collateral descent from the family of the Virgin Mary.
And the people in magazines and on television are made
To look exactly the way they do for some reason, too:
Every angle of their furniture, every nuance of their doors
And the shapes of their eyebrows and shirts has its history
Or purpose arcane as the remote Jewishness of those far Dukes,
In the great half-crazy tune of the song of reasons.
A child has learned to read, and each morning before leaving
For school she likes to. be helped through The Question Man
In the daily paper: Your Most Romantic Moment? Your Family Hero?
Your Worst Vacation? Your Favorite Ethnic Group?–– and pictures
Of the five or six people, next to their answers. She likes it;
The exact forms of the ordinary each morning seem to show
An indomitable charm to her; even the names and occupations.
It is like a bedtime story in reverse, the unfabulous doorway
Of the day that she canters out into, businesslike as a dog
That trots down the street. The street: sunny pavement, plane trees,
The flow of cars that come guided by with a throaty music
Like the animal shapes that sing at the gates of sleep.