Contents | June 2002

More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.

More by Robert Pinsky:
The Tuning (1995)
Jersey Rain (2000)
Biography (2000)
Vessel (2000) The Atlantic Monthly | June 2002
Jar of Pens

by Robert Pinsky
audioear pictureHear Robert Pinsky read this poem (in RealAudio)

Sometimes the sight of them
Huddled in their cylindrical formation
Repels me: humble, erect,
Mute and expectant in their
Rinsed-out honey crock: my quiver
Of detached stingers. (Or, a bouquet
Of lies and intentions unspent.)

Pilots, drones, workers—the Queen is
Cross. Upright lodge
Of the toilworthy—gathered
At attention as though they know
All the ink in the world couldn't
Cover the first syllable
Of a heart's confusion.

This fat fountain pen wishes
In its elastic heart
That I were the farm boy
Whose illiterate father
Rescued it out of the privy
After it fell from the boy's pants:
The man digging in boots
By lanternlight, down in the pit.

Another is straining to call back
The characters of the five thousand
World languages dead since 1900,
Curlicues, fiddleheads, brushstroke
Splashes and arabesques,
Footprints of extinct species.

The father hosed down his boots
And leaving them in the barn
With his pants and shirt
Came into the kitchen,
Holding the little retrieved
Symbol of symbol-making.

O brood of line-scratchers, plastic
Scabbards of the soul, you have
Outlived the sword—talons and
Wingfeathers for the hand.

What do you think? Discuss this article in Post & Riposte.

A former poet laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky has published numerous books of criticism and poetry, most recently Jersey Rain (2000).
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2002; Jar of Pens; Volume 289, No. 6; 53.