Though you may be a scribe in ancient Egypt
Or a breeder of horses among the Persians,
While I’m a dry-goods merchant in Peoria, Illinois,
I’d like to believe we can sit and reason together.
Though you attended, with the flower of Athens,
The first performance of the plays of Sophocles,
While I observed one last month in modern dress
At Peoria’s regional theater,
We can learn something from sharing our perspectives.
No doubt you believe in the myths that to me
Are only stories, but if I make the effort
Reason requires, I may grasp what’s implied
When the hero, in serving one god, runs afoul
Of another just as imposing. Their names may be strange
But the principles they embody may be familiar,
Two living truths locked in contention.
And if you insist that you hear a voice from above
Conversing with you in private at least once a day,
As do many of my fellow Peorians, while I hear nothing,
We can still sit down and discuss what I
Must do to live in peace with myself
And what you must do so the voice you host
Has an easier time enjoying your company.
Is your list of virtues different from mine?
That’s a question we can reason about together
Over a meal we share at a kitchen table
Set anywhere between here and Persia.
You won’t be offended if sincerity
Keeps me from praising the camel brisket.
I won’t be offended if you fail to ask
For a second helping of rhubarb pie.
Carl Dennis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book Practical Gods, is the author of eleven books of poetry, including, most recently, Callings. He has published poetry in Atlantic Monthly, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, New Yorker, and Salmagundi, and his work appears in numerous anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Pushcart Anthology. He lives in Buffalo, New York.