Letter to Robert Pinsky
Robert, your startlement reflected mine
When we met last month here in Oklahoma
After four or five years of e-mail only.
My teaching gig, your reading date: sheer chance,
Which governs half of what turns out to happen,
Can feel in retrospect like Destiny—
An antique concept unavoidable
If we maintain that Character outranks
Other engines spinning the threads of life.
But Cherokees… no, several nations marched here
A century ago might be allowed
To doubt it. Also, European Jews
Transported to Auschwitz. Or inhabitants
Of Gaza City, Tel Aviv, or Baghdad
In our day. Character is Destiny?
Not when shrapnel rips through civilian flesh.
Violence never stops for poetry,
Whose worst assignment’s to console us for it.
You’ll laugh, but Oklahoma’s the New Jersey
Of the Southwest, not just because they both
Have oil-refineries. Compare the horses,
The Neo-Gothic universities;
The hard-wired habit of preferring truth
To prettier versions of reality;
And a penchant for collusion where elective
Government is concerned. No beach towns, though,
No Long Branch, like the one your books describe.
I recognize your childhood, which didn’t look
Auspicious. Not even you, back then, foresaw
That one day you’d be tapped as laureate,
Quoted by admirers in fifty states.
Now, flip back to the Seventies and see us
Introduced as having written that year’s
“Best first books”—you, Maura, Tess, and I,
Invited by the Y to read and prove it.
Right then I knew you were a sure-fire bet.
And the bookie, it turns out, was right! The rest?
That’s in the lap (you know the phrase) of the gods,
Whose offhand ways with me you’ve more than once
Countered. All right, I won’t recap the facts.
We might have been mere rivals. Are long-term
Friends—a freebie I got from Destiny.
Warm sunlight here in Tulsa. Autumn leaves
Vacillating… When they do fall, gusts
Will bowl a Figured Wheel along Route 66.