Two Poems

January 29, 2019
A sculpted angel throws herself across a grave in a show of grief
Mike Schaffner, “Angel of Grief,” Glenwood Cemetery, Houston, Texas / Flickr

In Which I Try to Imagine Justice

 

without a thought to efficiency, without a thought
to deadlines, with only my fear of the spreading stain

of a cozening jocularity supplanting joy, a plastic
fool’s gold, funny money, blood on the floorboards

scrubbing won’t lift from the grain. Another failure,
this one to even approach the subject: where to begin?

With the understanding that injustice and injury’s
lexical relation may yield a version of recompense

better than metaphor? Especially than scales,
and a woman, blindfolded, with brandished sword?

With the understanding we have yet to think
deeply enough about our aims for reconciliation

and for redress? For example, you were a soldier,
right? You were a guard, correct? How was it,

walking the parapet? Was it hard to keep all those
keys straight? Hard to keep feeling important?

And was it hard to keep all the job’s words straight?
So hard that soon there was no room for new ones?

Thinking metaphorically is historically how we do it,
but we had better leave metaphor for another day

when we can sit with each other, knees touching,
holding hands, our heads bent forward, weeping.

 

How to Get By

 

Forget what you’ve seen, and for your own sake,
give up understanding what you’ve understood.
Call it an accident, not hatred. Call it a mistake.

Pretend you’re like the others. Do your best to fake
their manias and worries, carry on as if you could
forget what you’ve seen, and for your own sake

don’t get caught in conversations that may take
your taking a stand. It wasn’t, after all, your blood.
Call it an accident, not hatred. Call it a mistake

a good person, fearful and confused, might make,
and don’t object when fear is based on falsehood.
Forget what you’ve seen, and for your own sake,

no matter what you’re thinking, be opaque.
Let others project on you what suits their mood.
Call it an accident, not hatred. Call it a mistake

to think your outrage, your anger, your heartache,
if spoken, might change anything or do any good.
Forget what you’ve seen, and for your own sake,
call it an accident, not hatred. Call it a mistake.


Photo by Sven Birkerts

Richard Hoffman has published four volumes of poetry: Without Paradise; Gold Star Road, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club; Emblem; and his new collection, Noon until Night. His other books include the memoirs Half the House and Love & Fury, and the story collection Interference and Other Stories. He is senior writer in residence at Emerson College in Boston and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University.

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