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The Man on the Dump

January 20, 2021

It’s morning in America, and like many others I’ve been holding my breath for the last few days, hoping there won’t be some final catastrophe, any last-minute thumbing-of-the-nose, more carnage.

If all goes well at mid-day, then I’ll be able to sleep tonight, the kind of sleep I haven’t been able to fall into since the night of November 8, 2016.

Last night it snowed again, and the world is silent and frozen outside my door. Like millions of others, I’m watching videos of a mostly-empty Washington, D.C., seeing the memorial lights for the 400,000 dead and the mall filled with flags instead of people. There will be less trash than usual after an inauguration, although the new president still has a bigger mess to clean up.

Let’s hope that there will be enough people with expertise to search through the mess and find a few parts worth keeping. Let’s hope that over the next few cold days and weeks we discover a few good jars of unbroken preserves. Our new president is the man on the dump, as in Wallace Stevens’ poem:

Day creeps down. The moon is creeping up.
The sun is a corbeil of flowers the moon Blanche
Places there, a bouquet. Ho-ho … The dump is full
Of images. Days pass like papers from a press.
The bouquets come here in the papers. So the sun,
And so the moon, both come, and the janitor’s poems
Of every day, the wrapper on the can of pears,
The cat in the paper-bag, the corset, the box
From Esthonia: the tiger chest, for tea.

The freshness of night has been fresh a long time.
The freshness of morning, the blowing of day, one says
That it puffs as Cornelius Nepos reads, it puffs
More than, less than or it puffs like this or that.
The green smacks in the eye, the dew in the green
Smacks like fresh water in a can, like the sea
On a cocoanut—how many men have copied dew
For buttons, how many women have covered themselves
With dew, dew dresses, stones and chains of dew, heads
Of the floweriest flowers dewed with the dewiest dew.
One grows to hate these things except on the dump.

Now, in the time of spring (azaleas, trilliums,
Myrtle, viburnums, daffodils, blue phlox),
Between that disgust and this, between the things
That are on the dump (azaleas and so on)
And those that will be (azaleas and so on),
One feels the purifying change. One rejects
The trash.

That’s the moment when the moon creeps up
To the bubbling of bassoons. That’s the time
One looks at the elephant-colorings of tires.
Everything is shed; and the moon comes up as the moon
(All its images are in the dump) and you see
As a man (not like an image of a man),
You see the moon rise in the empty sky.

One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail.
One beats and beats for that which one believes.
That’s what one wants to get near. Could it after all
Be merely oneself, as superior as the ear
To a crow’s voice? Did the nightingale torture the ear,
Peck the heart and scratch the mind? And does the ear
Solace itself in peevish birds? Is it peace,
Is it a philosopher’s honeymoon, one finds
On the dump? Is it to sit among mattresses of the dead,
Bottles, pots, shoes and grass and murmur aptest eve:
Is it to hear the blatter of grackles and say
Invisible priest; is it to eject, to pull
The day to pieces and cry stanza my stone?
Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.

Let’s hope that as a country, we’re heading back towards being able to recognize and verify the truth.

Like what the household staff in the white house are doing literally right now, cleaning up and taking out the trash, tomorrow we’ll all have to get back to doing our part to clean up the mess we’ve made. But for today, let’s enjoy the feeling of hope: “One feels the purifying change. One rejects/The trash.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2021 4:50 pm

    It turned out to be a wonderful inauguration. And Amanda Gorman! Sleep well tonight Jeanne!

    • January 21, 2021 10:44 am

      On top of everything else, it was great to hear so many people talking about liking a poem yesterday!

  2. January 21, 2021 7:48 am

    I hope you had such a good sleep last night, Jeanne. We all deserve a night’s rest. (Except for Nazis; no rest for the wicked.) Did you get a chance to see Amanda Gorman perform? I am not a big poetry person but I thought she was just wonderful.

    • January 21, 2021 10:46 am

      I did see Gorman read her poem. Like everyone else, I thought she read it well. It isn’t always the case that poets read their own poems well. Perhaps the way she rehearsed and her consciousness that this was, indeed, a performance made the difference.

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