The devil is, if you write an excellent poem
I am glad, you know, but when your sullen, milky
Tongue hung, last year, following me, I drank…
Needed. Come back.—The new dull waitress comes
Out of the kitchen, sets down soup, salad,
Hamburgers, beers, she is feeding the academics,
Her lipstick smeared, on the checkered tablecloth.
She lacks the cockney temper of Doris, who quit.
We lack the music mankind yearns asleep for.
The devil is, I want you to love me
Here in the Corner Tavern, while I tell you
About Poetry.—We wipe our mouths with paper napkins,
We’re spitting blood, we’re coughing, we’re killing time,
We’re eating lunch. Keats was dead when he was your age,
When he was my age, Mozart.
Alicia Ostriker (b. 1937) is the author of numerous books of poetry and criticism. She is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University.2