Will Work for Food for Robert Penn Warren

for Robert Penn Warren


He was off the road on the island, the
handmade sign held up for recognition,
his hard face starved around his commitment
to hard work or a handout, staring straight
as a prophet, the slow summer traffic
gliding to the corner, looking, gliding,
as if he were part of an accident,
the lost parent, unnatural, or part
of another thing, a richer flowering,
and we were the poor in spirit passing.


Job saying, Thou my God are cruel and cast
me down to be lifted up like driftwood
on a wave, like ash above the burning
of my body, where my bones are starlight
in the cold night air, a night cloud drifting. . .
Do I not grieve the poor on either side,
on the right and the left, did I not grieve?
I know thou will bring me into the house
to let me mourn, let me stand up ignored,
letting me cry in the congregation.


The flowering at the end of the long stem
of the tension, the way the mallow rose
seems nervous in its stasis, taller than
a man, common, pale, mucilaginous,
the kind of study we will wade out to
just to touch and then be disappointed
in its color, texture, odor, this wildflower of the destitute who cut up
flowers for flavor and want for everything
except spirit, solitude, and famine.


Job saying, I am driven forth by thieves
who dwell in cliffs, in caves, among the rocks
and nettles where they gather in mock prayer
to mock me as their byword and their song,
who mar my path and set my calumny,
who come upon me as a wide breaking
rolling in of waters, wind and terrors,
a desolation and my soul poured out,
so even garments of my body change,
brother to dragons, companion to owls.
—Stanley Plumly