Tis Late

Of course the tall stringy woman

draped in a crocheted string-shawl

selling single red carnations

coned in newsprint the ones

she got at the cemetery

and resells with a god bless you

for a dollar that same woman

who thirty years ago

was a graduate student

in playwriting who can and will

recite "At the round earth's

imagined corners, blow—"

announces silently amidst her louder

announcements that the experiment

some amateurs mixed of

white fizzing democracy

with smoky purple capitalism

has failed. We already knew that.

Her madness is my madness

and this is my flower in a cone

of waste paper I stole from

someone’s more authentic grief

but I will not bless you

as I have no spirit of commerce

and no returning customers

and do not as so many must

actually beg for my bread. It is another

accident of the lab explosion

that while most died and others lost legs

some of us are only vaguely queasy

at least for now

and of course mad conveniently mad

necessarily mad because

"tis late to ask for pardon" and

we were so carefully schooled

in false hope schooled

like the parrot who crooks her tongue

like a dirty finger

repeating what her flat bright eyes deny.


About this poem:

"In a New England city where I once lived, there is a well-known local "character," a former graduate student, now street person, who recites poetry from the canon. I put a Donne sonnet in her mouth for this poem’s purposes, because Donne is one of my touchstones and because, as I hope is obvious from the poem, she and I have so much in common. We are all of us only one or two steps away from the street."

April Bernard

Copyright © 2013 by April Bernard. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.