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From “Verse,” which appeared in the December 1973 issue of Harper’s Magazine. The complete selection of poems — along with the magazine’s entire 167-year archive — is available online.


The angels who in innocent if
not painless intelligence
fly around a lot (sometimes away)

flew down one day
to the pastures of men
and said

“look, this one’s a stone
brunted
and there is one turning in himself

like a burnt-over viper
and look, this one’s
broader in his eyes than the world”

and the angels grew surprised
with the quantity
of contortion, misplacement, and mischance:

the stone cried
“if I am not to take myself
as I am, by

what means am I to be changed” and the viper
said
“the fountains of myself are a vision

I will not behold” and others grown old in
pain
cried out “who am I”

and the angels said “shall we give advice”
and said “should we
bring water

or bread or should we at least slay
selected ones”
but knowing neither whether to accept

the pastures as they were nor, if not, any
means to change them
veered off again

in broad loops and sweeps through the skies
and out of sight brushed
stars in their going by a-twinkle.


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August 2017