The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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stroll from Dog Beach down to Cape May, grumbling
over this nation’s inexhaustible
predilection for carnage: the mask of rectitude
painted over the skull of vindictive rage.
It is midwinter, the beach all but deserted:
an elderly gent walks an elderly golden retriever;
a family of four is out hunting for shells;
two good old boys chugging their Michelobs
take in the last of the sunset:
down at their feet, Iwo Jimaed into the sand,
a colossal American flag
that they’ve lugged down here to the beach
with their cooler of beer to cheer on the home team.
Night & day, on the other side of the world,
daisy cutters are pounding a village
to shambles, bathing the landscape in blood.
Women crouch in the rubble, rocking their dead.
— Listen, I say to Will,
E.O. Wilson can swear up & down there are species
of ants even more compulsively homicidal
than man: I, for one, remain unconvinced.
Above us, that gorgeous midwinter dusk.
At our feet, the Pacific, ablaze in magentas & reds.
True enough, he ventures, but, Steve, you’ve got
to admit we’re just as much a part of this world
as anything else . . . & maybe,
in some crazy way, marvelous too!
We walk on in silence.
A couple of high-school girls,
frolicking in & out of the surf, smile up at us sweetly.
A part of this world, yes, I snarl back.
But surely the ugliest part! — the words hardly
out of my mouth when those two young women,
now twenty yards or so down the beach,
suddenly fling open their arms, rise to their toes,
leap into the air, & float there — angelic . . . unearthly . . .
impossibly luminous creatures, alighting
at last in a dazzle of pirouettes & glissades,
only to rise up into the air again & again, while Will
& I stand there — dumbfounded, grinning, amazed.
Under the flare of the night’s first stars
each grand jeté more splendid, rapturous,
vaulting! Two ardently schooled young ballerinas,
silhouetted against the indigo flames
of the darkening western horizon.
The last of the light of this world setting behind them.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind (Regent Press).