a poem should

A poem should compel respect and pity
As a siren stops the city,

To see the stricken hobble by.

A poem should mutely display
What would hush a room to say:
A handful of dust, a rapist swan,
Bodies scythed into ditches of clay.

A poem should see
What the fry-cook sees, the whale,
The refugee.

It should lay its wrinkled fingers
Gently on and squeeze.

It should release in the back of the nose
Scents of salt water, sex, new rain on soot,
Grandfather’s undiscarded clothes.

A poem is built from parts
And then left on the curb.
You take a piece home, plug it in.
It restarts.

A poem’s every line
Can split and recombine,
Lie unexpressed until it arrests
An ethical decline.

A poem is equal to:
Me plus you.

(With apologies to Archibald MacLeish.)

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.