Tax Poems in the Times
April 14, 2012
Look! April is National Poetry Month and also Tax Time! Coincidence? Well, yes, actually. But it does offer a theme for people to ask for from poets. So cue The New York Times. . .
The results turned out pretty well, I think, for the most part. So is thiss the period style, then? Here it is if you didn’t catch it:
Tax BreakThe deadline for filing tax returns is Tuesday. Elbow-deep in the language of gross income, of capital gains and losses, of 1098, 1099 and W-2, we asked six writers: Is there any room for poetry?
Catch us up
to where we are
It’s been a good year
for unique, differentiated products.
I’m more interested
up and down,
bottom and top,
were a mirage,
it would decorate
— RAE ARMANTROUT
The author of Money Shot
THE IMPURITY OF PLEASURE
Somewhere nearby there was a party going on in which a fat man began to jump up and down. “I am a fat man,” he announced, “and I jump up and down whenever I can. Hearing the clink of loose change in my pocket and feeling the rubbery bounce of my body at the same time is bliss.” “I see,” said one of the onlookers, “but all that clinking and bouncing must tax you.” “Being taxed is never a problem,” said the fat man, running his hands over the spread of his body, “I’m too big for that sort of thing.” “So, what will you do when the party is over?” asked the onlooker. “I shall ride my horse,” said the fat man, “to the edge of the empire where I’ll consider my holdings; and of course I’ll eat something. I always eat something.”
— MARK STRAND
The author, most recently, of Almost Invisible
That was the year in which
we had to pay
the tax on love, which
was grief, of course. Of
course, it was
more than we
could ever afford. They’d
heard that story before.
Don’t answer the phone.
But now we know:
If you don’t answer the phone,
they come to the door.
Our only deduction
was our only hope:
The expensive coat
she’d never worn. Not
once. Not a single
stroll along the lake.
Not one snowstorm.
But life went on
and would go on, and
there were atomic
stockpiles to pay for.
the coyotes every night.
For which, some personal
responsibility we bore.
But the days were
always, in April. All
that white paper. Such
light, like April. Like
the light that a child, lost
in a cathedral for weeks,
might finally need to eat.
The petals of the lilies
and the communion wafers
and the emptiness peeled
from the bottom
of the empty collection plate.
For instance, she died
with an eye
still open, and
in the pupil —
Yes, I hate to say it:
In which a tiny agent
at a tiny desk
with a gleaming
pinprick for a pen
crunched her numbers,
pored over her forms.
— LAURA KASISCHKE
The author of Space, in Chains
MY TWO CENTS
Generally, there are two problems
With money: 1. Getting it and 2. What
To do with it. Certainly the food bank
Needs your help. The bristled ant.
Girls’ volleyball and these days even
The water supply, even the sky.
As you may surmise by my raiment,
Drapings really, and the primitive
Medium of this message, I have little
To recommend re: 1. Whereas 2.:
Start small. Make a stack of quarters
Then knock them down like an affordable
Coup d’état. Pennies are mostly zinc
So there’s your source of zinc,
An excellent sunblock. If you crumple
A crisp, uncirculated bill then
Uncrumple it incompletely,
It’ll appear to have shrunk as vivid
Visual aid to the recession. Blame
The president. Blame Congress. Blame
Mexico. For dramatic effect
Abbie Hoffman dropped a few hundred ones
On the New York Stock Exchange floor,
The ensuing pandemonium shutting down
The world economy for a couple hours.
Stared into the nothing-mist. Oil
Magnates and hotel highnesses stared
Into the mist. Squeak, squeak — tiny, pink
Rat-feet on the wheel. My father worked nights
Most his life then died young but we never
Lacked electricity or clothes. I hate
To suppose money makes everyone its slave
But nearly everyone I know is sleep-
Deprived and wants to send a robot-clone
Into work for them. Squeak, squeak. Often
Money, like gin, can bring out the worst
Although once, after a couple stiff ones,
My mother gave you her mother’s diamond ring.
Maybe she won’t remember a thing, we thought
But she wrote it off as a gift on her taxes.
— DEAN YOUNG
The author of Fall Higher
I put my words in a book tallying what, if
any, accumulated effect the labor will produce.
I use a No. 2 pencil with a rubbed
down eraser. There are scratched
through parts on the paper where I can see
that nothing, really, has come of it.
Nevertheless, it’s a big day.
Someone’s got to give. So I lick
my newspaper print fingers
and ante up. #DimeSucker.
Don’t think you’re hiding in the black
and white. Not the buildings. I don’t mind helping.
I don’t know your neighbors all that well but shoot, sam.
Why you gotta be like that?
— CARA BENSON
The author of (made)
HOW RARELY I HAVE STOPPED TO THANK THE STEADY EFFORT
A person speaking
pauses, lets in
a little silence-portion with the words.
It is like an hour.
Any hour. This one.
Something happens, much does not.
Or as always, everything happens:
the standing walls keep
standing with their whole attention.
A noisy crow call lowers and lifts its branch,
the crow scent enters the leaves, enters the bark,
like stirred-in honey gone into the tea.
How rarely I have stopped to thank
the steady effort of the world to stay the world.
To thank the furnish of green
and abandon of yellow. The ancient Sumerians
called the beloved “Honey,” as we do.
Said also, “Borrowed bread is not returned.”
Like them, we pay love’s tax to bees,
we go on arranging the old notes in different orders.
Desire inside A C A G G A T.
Forgiveness in G T A C T T.
In a world of space and time, arrangement matters.
An hour has no front or back,
except to those whose eyes face forward,
whose tears blur thought and stars.
Five genes, in a certain arrangement,
will spend this life unrooted, grazing.
It has to do with how the animal body comes into being,
the same whether ant or camel.
What then does such unfolded code understand,
if it finds in its mouth the word important —
the thing that can be carried, or the thing that cannot,
or the way they keep trading places,
grief and gladness, the comic, the glum, the dead, the living.
Last night, the big Sumerian moon
clambered into the house empty-handed
and left empty-handed,
not thief, not lover, not tortoise, just looking around,
shuffling its soft, blind slippers over the floor.
This felt, to me, important, and so I looked back with both hands
open, palms unblinking.
What caused the fire, we ask, meaning, lightning, wiring, matches.
How precisely and unbidden
oxygen slips itself into, between those thick words.
— JANE HIRSHFIELD
The author of Come, Thief