Erratum to an Elegy
for a Doomed Youth

Sometimes you just don’t know—
you just don’t know how things,
you just don’t know how things will turn out.

You know—or you thought you knew.
You could see the way the road
was going—there, and over the rise.

It’s not that you were wrong
or right. You never knew, but what
you felt, or feared, and could taste.

Then when cresting the slow rise—
not a valley of alfalfa and the yellow wheat,
not a buzzing district of current and errands.

Not as beautiful as the wheat,
but the needful—the vague mountains
tethered to the cement town.

This is where you’ve never been.
Though slowly you start to realize
that God must surprise Himself, or no dice.


Genius is Cheapness

Or call it a craftsman’s thriftiness.
The skinflint Ford, wincing at
a workman hunting for his hammer,
said a man is a hammer and his friend a wrench.
Edison, liking the ring
of Let there be, tried this, then that
for a filament that would sing like the sun.
Einstein also, the sockless one,
saw all contract to mass and flash.

The gold-nibbed physician Sigismund
impatient with the rictus of women
thought all of it was this—just this.
And Henry David, the handyman,
shook life like a Christmas tree
until it breathed free of its tinsel
and sprang up like a brickyard weed—
and God and everybody laughed
at how few moves to make all this.

Don Barkin has published poems in Poetry, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Commonweal, Prairie Schooner, and other magazines. He is the author of three full-length books of poems, That Dark Lake (2009), Houses (2017), and The Rail Stop at Wassaic (2020).

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Published in the September 23, 2016 issue: View Contents
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