Wednesday, April 04, 2012

`Mute and Measured Competency'

This week, three guys will load our furniture, dishes and books in a truck and drive them to Houston. Another guy will chain my wife’s Toyota to the back of another truck and haul it to the same city. Two women will arrive on Friday to clean our rental house better than I can. Today, a dentist and his hygienist will clean my sons’ teeth and check for decay. For two nights the boys and I will stay in a hotel, where maids will clean our room and make our beds. A clerk will process my rental car. We’ll probably order a pizza baked by another guy, and a pilot and crew will fly us to Houston on Sunday. Unqualified self-reliance is a delusion, and our lives are incalculably eased by an army of strangers.

Lucid Rhythms is an online poetry magazine I’ve just discovered. In the latest issue are two poems by James Matthew Wilson, an editor at Front Porch Republic and author of “The Realism of Helen Pinkerton.” Here is “To N.H.”:

“The world’s more difficult than any text.
I see the working people in their scrubs
Or coveralls, smoking near some multiplex
For cat-scans, dental crowns, and rehab. rubs—

“For every service that can’t be delivered
Into a cellular suburb’s opulence.
Some months ago, a woman whom I’d never
Give half my heart, set my arm in a cast.

“If all such functionaries can perform
Set tasks with mute and measured competency,
Why should the writer of a dozen poems
Mimic their minds’ surplus simplicity

“Instead of specializing every bit,
Like them, in one skill: cold, allusive wit?”

Poets and others pay sentimental lip service to working people, keeping them safely politicized and far away. There’s a million things I can’t do, including hauling household possessions by truck halfway across the country. I’m happy to pay people who can. What would we do without the “mute and measured competency” of so many strangers?

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