“Modesty” by Richard Luftig

Richard Luftig


I consider myself an average man except in the fact that I consider myself an average man.
—Michel De Montaigne

When I was a kid, my father always told me:
Remember: No matter how good you are there will always be someone better.
So I figured I’d cut out the middleman and try for second place.
Or dead last. But that never seemed to satisfy him either. Go figure.

In school, whenever I raised my hand, I would begin:
This is probably a stupid question. 
Praying that the teacher wouldn’t say:
You know, you’re right.

When I met the woman of my dreams, I asked her out
so badly that she didn’t know I asked her out,
and only one of us (you guess which) showed up at the restaurant.
Ten dates later, she got tired of waiting and kissed me first.

Along the beach, where I planned to propose,
the only thing I could blurt out was: Do you want to get hitched?
And she agreed anyway. Fifty years after getting my degree, 
I am still waiting for the university to figure out that they meant

to send it to the other guy who had the same name as mine, 
and would I kindly return the diploma in their self-addressed envelope?
And these poems: Written about old barns and dying towns—
nothing ever confessional because I don’t believe

my life is that interesting. Sent only to magazines
that I think have a circulation of forty-six with three
people who might actually read my poem all the way
through and one (bless you, dear reader) even saying: 

Hey, so this guy isn’t as bad as I thought.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020


Richard Luftig: “I lived in the Midwest for 30-some years where modesty is an art form. Also I learned it by working at Miami University of Ohio and spending most of my time trying to explain to out-of-staters why the school isn’t in Florida. I believe that poetry shouldn’t be a ‘guess-me’ affair too difficult and obtuse for readers. I write it for the breakfast waitress who buys my book with her tip-money. I have been married to that girl in the poem for almost 50 years (and who has been nominated for sainthood).” (web)

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