Gratitude

Forget each slight, each head that turned
Toward something more intriguing—
Red flash of wing beyond the window,

The woman brightly chiming
About the suffering of the world. Forget
The way your best friend told the story

Of that heroic road trip, forgetting that you drove
From Tulsa to Poughkeepsie while he
Slumped dozing under headphones. Forget

The honors handed out, the lists of winners.
Forget the certificates, bright trophies you
Could have, should have, maybe won.

Remind yourself you never wanted them.
When the spotlight briefly shone on you,
You stepped back into darkness,

Let the empty stage receive the light,
The black floor suddenly less black—
Scuff-marks, dust, blue tape—the cone

Of light so perfect, slicing silently that perfect
Silent darkness, and you, hidden in that wider dark,
Your refusal a kind of gratitude at last.

More by Jon Davis

In Darkness

Silence in this suburb of cars and dogs, of roar 
and rumble, sudden thump at the railroad crossing.
But this morning before 5 am, there's only the wash, 
the waterfall of cars on I-25, which sounds in my ear 
almost like the sound of blood in my arteries—
that inner traffic.  In the pre-dawn silence
a bright crescent of moon, darkness visible,
the flared edge.  Now a dog barks. Now a single bird.
Another.  Now a car in the distance.  Dog.  Bird,
farther off, this time.  Just this one moment of silence
before the traffic begins, before the full choir of dogs 
and birds and coyotes flush with desire, as I begin, 
shook and shaking now in the lea of in the wake of 
in the grip of what unnameable fierce beauty. 

Preliminary Report from the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering

We who wear clean socks and shoes are tired
of your barefoot complaining, your dusty footprints
on our just-cleaned rugs. Tired, too of your endless ploys—
the feigned amputations, the imaginary children
you huddle with outside the malls, your rags and bottles,
the inconvenient positions you assume. Though we remain
impressed by your emaciation and your hunger and,
frankly, find you photogenic and think your images
both alarming and aesthetically pleasing, to do anything
more than sigh will require a complex process
of application and review, a process that is currently
in the development stage. Meanwhile, may we suggest
you moderate your public suffering at least
until the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering
is able to produce guidelines. Do not be alarmed.
The committee has asked me to assure you
that they are sensitive both to the aesthetic qualities
of your suffering—the blank stares, the neotonous beauty
as the flesh recedes and the eyes seem to grow larger,
the haloes of flies—and to the physical limitations
of human endurance and the positioning of limbs.
They will, I am certain, ask that you not lift
your naked children like offerings to the gods.
On this topic, discussion has centered around the unfair
advantage such ploys give the parents of such children.
The childless, whether by choice or fate, are left
to wither silently in the doorways while those with children
proffer and gesticulate in the avenues unabated.
This offends our cherished sense of fairness,
the democratic impulse that informs and energizes
our discussions. Therefore, we ask for restraint,
and where restraint is lacking, we will legislate.
Please be forewarned. In addition, the committee
will recommend that the shouting of slogans,
whether directed at governments or deities, be kept
to a minimum. Not only is such shouting displeasing
aesthetically, but it suggests there is something
to be done. Believe me, no one is more acutely aware
of your condition than we who must ignore it everyday
on our way to the capitol. In this matter, we ask only
that you become more aware of your fellow citizens,
who must juggle iPods, blackberries, briefcases
and cell phones, lattes. Who must march steadily
or be trampled by the similarly burdened citizens
immediately behind them. Your shouting and pointing
does not serve you well. Those of us employed
by the agency are sworn to oversee you. If we seem,
as you suggest, to have overlooked you instead,
that is an oversight and will be addressed, I am certain,
in our annual review. Please be aware: To eliminate
your poverty, your hunger, your aesthetically
pleasing, yet disturbing, presence in our doorways,
above our heating grates, in our subway tunnels
and under our freeways would mean the elimination
of the agency itself and quite possibly a decline
in tourism. Those of us employed by the agency
have neither the stamina, persistence, nor the luminous
skin tones that you present to the viewing public.
Finally, to those who would recommend programs,
who would call for funding and action,
I must remind you that we have been charged not
with eliminating your suffering but with managing it.

Related Poems

Avoid Adapting Other People's Negative Views


                          after Epictetus
                      

To gaze upon the fatal
without commiserating gloom:
 
what every friend should be—
not one who rends her coat of doom
 
nor one who lets her ankle rankle
nor her dogged love to the hounds.          
 
Be the cat in catastrophe
who survives eight more dives.
 
Though in the clutch of damage
a dame must age,
 
in the crazy-quilt of guilt
it was never your fault.
 
In the company of morose
always pull out the rose.

ode to the puritan in me

There is a puritan in me
the brim of whose
hat is so sharp
it could cut
your tongue out
with a brow
so furrowed you
could plant beets
or turnips or
something of course
good for storing
he has not taken a nap
since he was two years old
because he detests
sloth above all
he is maybe the only real person
I’ve ever heard
say “sloth” or “detest”
in conversation
he reads poetry
the puritan in me
with an X-Acto knife in his calloused hand
if not a stick of dynamite
and if the puritan in me sees
two cats making
whoopee in the barn
I think not
because they get
in the way
or scare the crows
but more precisely
because he thinks it is worthless
the angles of animals
fucking freely
in the open air
he will blast them to smithereens
I should tell you
the puritan in me always carries a shotgun
he wants to punish the world I suppose
because he feels he needs punishing
for who knows how many unpunishable things
like the times as a boy he’d sneak shirtless between the cows
to haul his tongue across the saltlick
or how he’d study his dozing granny’s instep
like it was the map of his county
or the spring nights he’d sneak to the garden behind the sleeping house
and strip naked
while upon him lathered the small song
of the ants rasping their tongues
across the peonies’ sap, making of his body
a flower-dappled tree
while above him the heavens wheeled and his tongue
drowsed slack as a creek,
on the banks of which, there he is,
right now, the puritan in me
tossing his shotgun into the cattails,
taking off his boots, and washing his feet
in that water.

You Can't Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.