To Commerce Books / People In Trade

FIVE POEMS by DAVID IGNATOW


OUR MASTERPIECE

You can stick a sign For Sale
on the biggest part of America, the people.
Nobody will complain, only there isnt a customer
wealthy enough for us, and so we sell in small
      lots
to each other.

America, America on the dotted line,
and if we think we live purely on emotion,
go into any restaurant and see who flashes the
      wallet,
and who counts the change,
and who leaves embarrassed by his small tip.

I dont care what any man feels outside of business.
It plays as small a part as a bass fiddle
in a symphony. Blowhard trombone and French
      horn
are the money-makers,
and over all is the conductor, the idea of money
      itself,
pulling the song out of us, our masterpiece.



SALES TALK

Better than to kill each other off
with our extra energy is to run after the bus,
though another be right behind. To run
and to explain to ourselves we have no time
to waste, when it is time that hangs
dangerously on our hands, so that the faster
we run the quicker the breezes rushing by
take time away.
                   For comfort we must work
this way, because in the end we find
fume-filled streets and murder headlines:
one out of insanity breaks loose:
he could not make that extra effort
to keep connected with us. Loneliness
like a wheeling condor was attracted
to the particle that had strayed apart.
The brief case we carry, the pressed trousers,
the knotted tie under a white collar add up
to unity and morale.



IN MY ROOM

If my wife thinks I am sitting here being ambitious,
it is very funny.
I am sitting here
doing exactly what would shock the world.
I am sitting in a most comfortable pose
doing nothing.

No ambition and no high thought.
No yearning to save the world
or to be saved by it.
Let me do as I please
and I shall harm no one.
Keep me from doing what I want
and I shall harm someone,
including myself.



A MEDITATION ON VIOLENCE

It is perfectly possible
                               like a boar
                    swinging his tusk
                               It is he
caught upon a spear
                        bleeding
stretched out on the ground
                                        We bow

On my birthday
they knocked out
two bridges
a fishing boat standing at anchor
and a forest
defoliated with a napalm bomb
on my fifty-first year

Saying "Peace"
is to keep the dogs down
who are straining to leap
savage and whining
out of our own mouths

Through an open window
facing the river
the wind blows this hot day
while I sprawl upon a bed,
my skin cooled. Would
that this were the fate of the world:
a stream of cool reason
flow serenely between hot shores
into which steaming heads
could dip themselves

But the children, I think, should not be blotted
      out,
as I sit listening to the rise and fall
of their pleasures, the sudden change
to bad temper quickly forgotten
by the shift to joy,
pleased with the world that lets them
shout and jump and play at tantrums
for this is freedom to understand
until they wander off to bed.
Shall I say their sounds are an intrusion
when they show the meaning to my life
is to celebrate, always to celebrate?
I listen as I would to rain falling
upon a field.



THE BAGEL

I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.



David Ignatow was born February 7, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York, and began his professional career as a businessman. After committing wholly to poetry, he published sixteen volumes of poetry and three collections of prose while working as an editor of American Poetry Review, Beloit Journal, Chelsea Magazine, and as poetry editor for The Nation. He also taught writing at the University of Kentucky, The New School for Social Research, New York University and Columbia University.

He was president of the Poetry Society of America from 1980 to 1984. His many honors include a Bollingen Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Wallace Stevens fellowship from Yale University. He died in 1997.