Variations on a Phrase by Cormac McCarthy

Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Like the carpenter whose tools were so dull
he couldn’t for the life of him devise a miter joint

Like the mattress left out on the curb all night

Like the woman
so fallen out of practice, she can no longer sing from the hymnal
Like the smoker on the scaffolding

Like the sleeper on his cardboard on the pavement Like the rain

Like the dog whose human so loves her      Whose hip
will never heal again
Like the dog who trembles in pain on her leash whose human
so loves her, he cannot bear to let her go

Like the takeout tossed into the bin for recycling      Like
the crosswalk the postbox      the flashing light

Like the beggar whose accordion knows only
the single musical phrase      Like the air
with its particulates      Like the idling bus

Like the cherries at the fruit stall      Like the cyclist      Like
the bus      Like the cyclist Like his cellphone Like the bus

Like the beggar so bored with the music, he
has never sounded out the rest of the song      Like the carpenter

whose work went so slowly for the dullness of his tools,
he had no time to sharpen them

This poem references a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.