after Lattimore’s Homer
We live on the flat surface of the world, and compared with a god,
We can do nothing. If the god or the god’s divine messenger
Were to come to Manhattan and approach this parkbench and sit beside me—
And there is plenty of space for him or her and there is no rain—
Then I believe I could do something, as a famous singer does great things
Until he disappoints his people or is killed; or like a preacher
Who works things with his voice, continually greater, till the god
Reaches out and down with hard bereavement and consumes him.
But as it is, my wife, two years ago, left me; I can do nothing.
I quit my job and moved hundreds of miles away and read and wrote
And looked hard at other people’s lives as they tried to do this or that.
I learned from their stories but the inexorable, dangerous warming of the world
Goes on. Now in my speech I call upon the beautiful past, knowing the lines
Come to nothing and are not poetry; and that other men and women
Are left every day by their women and their men, their vows torn open
Like trash into which the raccoons tear, eager to eat of it,
And they wreck the yard and the sidewalk and disown the mess of it;
When they have eaten their fill they return to the trees and are gone,
And behind them the sorry, noisome garbage scatters on the lovely grass.
Order and peace and abundance and joy are the long work
To which young men and women aspire in their early strength,
But madness comes, and the spoiling vermin down the streetlamp;
My wife becomes my ex-wife, and all the bridal veil and dress
And the heaped white lilies of the wedding day somehow dissolve;
Their promise is consumed; the great love dies of smallness and is gone.
—from Rattle #29, Summer 2008
Jamey Hecht: “I wrote the poem ‘Divorce’ in 2001. Then in 2006 I had to add the word ‘First’ to the title.” (website)