Thanksgiving Letter from Harry
I guess I have to begin by admitting I'm thankful today I don't reside in a country My country has chosen to liberate, That Bridgeport's my home, not Baghdad. Thankful my chances are good, when I leave For the Super Duper, that I'll be returning. And I'm thankful my TV set is still broken. No point in wasting energy feeling shame For the havoc inflicted on others in my name When I need all the strength I can muster To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district. There, at least, I don't feel powerless. There my choices can make some difference. This month I'd like to believe I've widened My students' choice of vocation, though the odds My history lessons on working the land Will inspire any of them to farm Are almost as small as the odds One will become a monk or nun Trained in the Buddhist practice We studied last month in the unit on India. The point is to get them suspecting the world They know first hand isn't the only world. As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class, It's not because I feel obliged to include it, As you, as a writer, may feel obliged. A student may happen to introduce it, As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay About her older brother, Ramon, Listed as "missing in action" three years ago, And about her dad, who won't agree with her mom And the social worker on how small the odds are That Ramon's alive, a prisoner in the mountains. I didn't allow the discussion that followed More time than I allowed for the other essays. And I wouldn't take sides: not with the group That thought the father, having grieved enough, Ought to move on to the life still left him; Not with the group that was glad he hadn't made do With the next-to-nothing the world's provided, That instead he's invested his trust in a story That saves the world from shameful failure. Let me know of any recent attempts on your part To save our fellow-citizens from themselves. In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene Where he appears under guard in a mountain village Should be confined to the realm of longing. There His captors may leave him when they move on. There his wounds may be healed, His health restored. A total recovery Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness A father dreams he can burn away.
From Unknown Friends, Copyright © 2007 by Carl Dennis. Reprinted with permission of Penguin.
Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dennis has published twelve books of poetry, including Night School (Penguin, 2018), Another Reason (Penguin, 2014); Callings (Penguin, 2010); Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992), among others. Dennis has also published a book of criticism, Poetry as Persuasion (University of Georgia Press, 2001).
Known for its casual, plainspoken narrative style that makes its home in the everyday life of the American middle class, Dennis’s poetry is a quiet, almost intimate, meditation on the world around him. In a review of Dennis’s poems in The Washington Post, poet Robert Pinsky wrote, “The musing mind or voice reaches its object not with a turbulent roar of rhetoric, but with the penetration of fine oil. The poems of Carl Dennis proceed to startling, sometimes even upsetting conclusions by that musing process of mind, alert and patient.”
Dennis has received several honors and distinctions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the recipient of the 1989 Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the 1995 Bess Hokin Prize, the 1997 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize, and the 2000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
Dennis taught at the University of Buffalo from 1966 to 2001, after which time he served as the school’s artist in residence. He also taught in the MFA program in creative writing at Warren Wilson College.
He lives in Buffalo, New York.
Date Published: 2007-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/thanksgiving-letter-harry