Robert Pinsky









I live in the little village of the present

But lately I forget my neighbors’ names.

More and more I spend my days in the City:


The great metropolis where I can hope

To glimpse great spirits as they cross the street,

Souls durable as the cockroach and the lungfish.


When I was young, I lived in a different village.

We had parades: the circus, the nearby fort.

And Rabbi Gewirtz invented a game called “Baseball.”


To reach first base you had to chant two lines

Of Hebrew verse correctly. Mistakes were outs.

One strike for every stammer or hesitation.


We boys were thankful for the Rabbi’s grace,

His balancing the immensity of words

Written in letters of flame by God himself


With our mere baseball, the little things we knew . . .

Or do I remember wrong, did we boys think

(There were no girls) that baseball was the City


And that the language we were learning by rote—

A little attention to meaning, now and then—

Was small and local. The Major Leagues, the City.


One of the boys was killed a few year later,

Wearing a uniform, thousands of miles away.

He was a stupid boy: when I was captain


If somehow he managed to read his way to first,

I never let him attempt the next two lines

To stretch it for a double. So long ago.


Sometimes I think I’ve never seen the City,

That where I’ve been is just a shabby district

Where I persuade myself I’m at the center.


Or: atrocities, beheadings, mass executions,

Troops ordered to rape and humiliate—the news,

The Psalms, the epics—what if that’s the City?


Gewirtz, he told us, means a dealer in spices.

Anise and marjoram used for embalming corpses,

For preserving or enhancing food and drink:


The stuff of civilization, like games and verses.

The other night, I dreamed about that boy,

The foolish one who died in the course of war:


He pulled his chair up so he faced the wall.

I wanted him to read from the prayer-book.

He didn’t answer—he wouldn’t play the game.







          (Improvised that day, from the news, for National Public Radio)


The President and his opponent both speaking in Ohio—

Both, says the River of News, about the economy.

The Egyptian high court has liquidated their parliament.

In the Iroquois language Ohio means a good river.

Releases, reports. Revenue streams analyzed.


Car industry statements defend the three-crew workday,

Though the three-crew flow is hard on workers’ households.

In Mozambique, agribusiness has expanded irrigation.

In Russian, the word “liquidate” is especially sinister.

In Entertainment, here are last week’s highest grosses.


Tongues. Speeches and statements. Poems, reports, parleys.

An Egyptian says, this is the smoothest of military coups.

“We’d be outraged,” he says, “if we weren’t so exhausted.”

“Economy” comes from “household” in ancient Greek.

Etymologies. Global ecologies. Exponents, logarhithms.


The saying is, “Money talks”  Our own high court has

Decreed that money, the great tributary, is speech itself.

In Mozambique, that massive diversion of the waters

Has done much harm to subsistence farmers, but Africa—

Africa can feed the world, says a corporate spokesman.






It was a little newborn god

That made the first instrument:

Sweet vibration of

Mind, mind, mind

Enclosed in its orbit.


He scooped out a turtle’s shell

And strung it with a rabbit’s guts.

O what a stroke to invent

Music from an empty case

Strung with bloody filaments—


The wiry rabbitflesh

Plucked or strummed,

Pulled taut across the gutted

Resonant hull of the turtle:

Music from strings that

Tremble over a hollow—

Sweet conception, sweet

Instrument of


Mind, mind, mind: Mind

Itself a capable vibration

Thrumming from here to there

In the cloven brainflesh

Contained in its helmet of bone—

Like an electronic boxfull

Of channels and filaments

Bundled inside its case,

A little musical robot


Dreamed up by the mind

Embedded in the brain

With its blood-warm channels

And its humming network

Of neurons, engendering


The newborn baby god—

As clever and violent

As his own instrument

Of sweet, all-consuming

Imagination, held

By its own vibration,


Mind, mind, mind pulled

Taut in its bony shell,

Dreaming up Heaven and Hell.











Robert Pinsky’s recent book of poetry is his Selected Poems. Other publications include his best-selling translation The Inferno of Dante  and The Life of David, a prose account of the Biblical king. As Poet Laureate of the United States, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, with the videos at

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