The Poets Hang On / Margaret Atwood

Posted on August 29, 2015 by

0


The poets hang on.
It’s hard to get rid of them,
though lord knows it’s been tried.
We pass them on the road
standing there with their begging bowls,
an ancient custom.
Nothing in those now
but dried flies and bad pennies.
They stare straight ahead.
Are they dead, or what?
Yet they have the irritating look
of those who know more than we do.

More of what?
What is it they claim to know?
Spit it out, we hiss at them.
Say it plain!
If you try for a simple answer,
that’s when they pretend to be crazy,
or else drunk, or else poor.
They put those costumes on
some time ago,
those black sweaters, those tatters;
now they can’t get them off.
And they’re having trouble with their teeth.
That’s one of their burdens.
They could use some dental work.

They’re having trouble with their wings, as well.
We’re not getting much from them
in the flight department these days.
No more soaring, no radiance,
no skylarking.
What the hell are they paid for?
(Suppose they are paid.)
They can’t get off the ground,
them and their muddy feathers.
If they fly, it’s downwards,
into the damp grey earth.

Go away, we say –
and take your boring sadness.
You’re not wanted here.
You’ve forgotten how to tell us
how sublime we are.
How love is the answer:
we always liked that one.
You’ve forgotten how to kiss up.
You’re not wise any more.
You’ve lost your splendor.

But the poets hang on.
They’re nothing if not tenacious.
They can’t sing, they can’t fly.
They only hop and croak
and bash themselves against the air
as if in cages,
and tell the odd tired joke.
When asked about it, they say
they speak what they must.
Cripes, they’re pretentious.

They know something, though.
They do know something.
Something they’re whispering,
something we can’t quite hear.
Is it about sex?
Is it about dust?
Is it about love?

p