for Katha Pollitt


It isn’t worth our while to fret about
our excellence or impotence in art.
I would have liked to be wilder, bolder,
someone who had tampered with tradition,
more personal or more impersonal.
I could have used a better body, too,
and a more classic profile,
but then I would have been another person
and written other poems, if I’d written.
For our real poems are already in us
and all we can do is dig.
We can work for years and never find them
or miss them when they stare us in the face.
At the worst, which is our common fate,
we turn up rubble:
bits of dirty mirror, shadowy glass
that tells us nothing. Its market value
is absolutely nil.
We can keep on digging, and we will.
But we were trained enough to recognize
that the jar is flawed, cracked in the firing,
and when we started to fool with it it shattered
into infinite slivers no one can put together,
each of which gives off the same small light.