Robert Sargent



Beneath noticing: there is Wyatt lying
Holed up in a London Chamber, thinking of Anne,
And all the mice are frightened.

The Faulkner ne'er-do-well has taken a job
Wheeling coal at the power plant, late shift.
He scribbles from midnight to four.

And in Storyville or out at Lincoln Park,
When Bolden blows his raucous calling horn,
The boy Louis is listening.



Old man at an umber table. There he sits,
Searching the evidence, as he slowly fits
Heuristic concepts to an older time,
Another country. And as poets by rhyme,
Musicians by their measures are constrained,
So all his dreamy art must be contained
By gnarly, wooden facts not trimmed or lengthened,
And by their discipline his art is strengthened.
All seems athwartways in the slanty scene
He makes for us. Familiar figures lean.
Later, we grow accustomed to his view
Of how things were, forget we thought it new.
Old crafty bearded wizard. Patient sleuth.
The erector of edifices. The inventor of truth.

David Chung
Donut Eaters 1988 linocut 10" x 8"
see more work by David Chung




My daughter Mary called me on Father's Day
and said, Dad, I've got a story to tell you
about you as a father to me, growing up.
You and I were together talking, daughter and daddy,
and an ant came into the room on the floor between us.
I jumped up and stomped on it. You looked at me and said,
Why did you do that? I said, Oh,
it's just an ant. I can't remember exactly all you said,
but you told me not to kill defenseless things,
unless I had a very good reason to do so.
I do remember a particular thing you said,
"They're doing the best they can." Ever since then
I've never stepped on an ant, wittingly.

I was of course very pleased at this Father's Day message.
And as for the saying, "Doing the best they can,"
I have used it for years, applying it very broadly
to living, struggling things, including humans.
It makes their behavior somehow more acceptable.



At my age, finally, I'm coming to be well-known.
Strangers I don't know know who I am
and sometimes call my name.

Of course, I'm easy to recognize: white hair
and beard, slow pace, glasses. It would be nice
if they had read my poems,

or knew my reputation as a poet.
But that's not it. There is another reason
why these people know me.

They go to kindergarten near my home,
attended by my daughter, five. They see me and shout,
"Lula, here's your daddy!"



This is an age, for me, of last time performances:
driving a car, cut short by declining vision;
riding the Metro alone, trouble with tickets;
stopped The New Yorker, too much trouble to read;
and I am just about to stop The Wall Street Journal;
cannot send email though can still receive,
printing the screen, then using magnification.
None of these things is very important to happiness.
There is, however, a loss I really feel.
A posture of mine since I was a small child:
sitting, a book in my lap, reading the pages.



The stealthy days come on in their usual fashion,
sneaking through May, approaching the summer solstice.
By the time that comes

I will have had another late-life birthday.
Well, I say, so what! Things keep happening,
things of interest.

It was only last week I put into words my affection
for Darwin and William James--based on their openness,
their unpretentiousness.

And discoveries! My new admiration: the lovely books
designed by Leonard Baskin, now on display
at the Library of Congress.

These small epiphanies seem to me OK things,
and these stealthy days--I've never wanted to slow them,
only to fill them.



Uptown New Orleans, 1940,
And here was a man of the right color,
Old enough to have been there,

Who maybe heard. So I inquired
From the old man doing his yard work,
"Ever hear Buddy Bolden play?"

"Ah, me," he said, stopping his work.
"Yes. But you mean King. King Bolden.
That's what we called him then."

He leaned on his rake a while, resting.
"Used to play in Algiers, played so loud
we could hear him clear 'cross the river."

He seemed listening. "King Bolden, now,
There was a man could play." We stood there,
Thinking about it, smiling.



Mister Lester January, I have never met you,
But forty years ago you were a butcher in Vicksburg,
And I saw your sign many times: Lester January, Butcher.

Mister Lester January (if you are still with us), you won't remember
You bought a little goat once, as a routine transaction,
Whose name was Mondamin. You couldn't have known his name.

Mister Lester January, Mondamin was my little goat.
Had a little "baa"; loved milk; and butted my gently.
Became a nuisance to parents. Had to be sold.
And you were the chosen recipient.

Mister Lester January, I am not angry, but one question, please:
That time when you butchered and sold Mondamin,
Tell me, did you describe him to customers truthfully?


Robert Sargent is the author of ten books: Now is Always the Miraculous Time (1977), A Woman from Memphis (1979), Aspects of a Southern Story (1983), Fish Galore (1989), The Cartographer (1994), Stealthy Days (1998), The Jazz Poems of Robert Sargent (2000), Altered in the Telling (2001),Wonderous News (2002), and 99 After 80 (2003). Individual poems of his have appeared in such journals as the Antioch Review, New York Quarterly, Sou'wester, College English, Poetry East, Pembroke Magazine, and Poetry. He has served as President of Washington Writers Publishing House, on the Board of The Word Works, Inc. and The Bunny and Crocodile Press, and is a long-time member of the Capitol Hill Poetry Group. In 1996 he received the Columbia Merit Award from the Poetry Committee of the Greater Washington DC Area. He is the father of three children.

Published in Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2004.


To read more by this author:
Hastings Wyman on Robert Sargent: The Profiles Issue