A Poet's Poet
A conversation with Carl Dennis
"Thou shalt not covet," hardest of the Commandments,
Is listed last so the others won’t be neglected.
An hour a day of practice is all that anyone
Can expect you to spare, and in ten years’ time
You may find you’ve outgrown your earlier hankering
For your neighbor’s house, though his is brick
And yours is clapboard, though his contains a family.
Ten years of effort and finally it’s simple justice
To reward yourself with a token of self-approval.
Stand tall as you linger this evening
In the sweater section of Kaufmann’s Department Store
By the case for men not afraid of extravagance.
All will go well if you hold your focus steady
On what’s before you and cast no covetous eye
On the middle-aged man across the aisle
In women’s accessories as he converses quietly
With his teenaged son. The odds are slim
They’re going to reach agreement about a gift
Likely to please the woman they live with,
Not with the clash in what they’re wearing,
The father dapper in sport coat and tie, the son
Long-haired, with a ring in his ear and a shirt
That might have been worn by a Vandal chieftain
When he torched a town at the edge of the Empire.
This moment you covet is only a truce
In a lifelong saga of border warfare
While each allows the other with a shake of the head
To veto a possibility as they slowly progress
From umbrellas to purses, from purses to gloves
In search of something bright for the darker moments
When the woman realizes her life with them
Is the only life she’ll be allotted.
It’s only you who assumes the relief on their faces
When they hold a scarf to the light and nod
Will last. The boy will have long forgotten this moment
Years from now when the woman he’s courting
Asks him to name a happy time with his dad,
A time of peaceable parley amidst the turmoil.
So why should you remember? Think how angry
You’ll be at yourself tomorrow if you let their purchase
Make you unhappy with yours, ashamed
Of a sweater on sale that fits you well,
Gray-blue, your favorite color.
© 2003, Carl Dennis