The Late Cold War

A man says he doesn’t understand my poetry

Frankly i’m not surprised

I learned to write in a hot desert during the cold war
We did air raid drills in a schoolyard full of thick-skinned
       ornamental oranges

We saw dioramas of a fallout shelter where a mother wearing a light
       print housedress served TV dinners on aluminum trays to children
       wearing saddle shoes

The man says poetry should be simple enough
       for school girls to understand

But sir, school girls understand everything

Nancy Drew was in love with the obstacle not the clue

My nearsighted eyes had adjusted to reading & by 1962
       letters had developed fuzzy antennas like tarantulas or modernism

The psyche rises like mist from things, writes Heraclitus

Sir, when i think of poetry keeping you alive i know
       you were entered by incomprehensible light
       in the hour of lemon & water

& the great wound of the world has slipped a code
       into your shoe

A poem doesn’t fail when you set your one good wing on the ground

It is the wing
It doesn’t abandon you

From Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Brenda Hillman. Used with the permission of the poet.