May 26, 2023 Pinsky Robert



Infinite information here in my phone.
Here in my head a congregation of dead
With numbers I had by heart, each with a tune,
Back when a few years’ friendship in New Brunswick
Or Palo Alto was a lifetime. The numbers
Now fast asleep among the neuron ruins.


Thwarted by the Elders he defied, Gene England
A hero now for those young Mormons I met.
Henry Dumas shot dead by a transit cop.
He told me once while we were reading “The Gyres”
That as an airman in Texas he could get in
To see movies with an accent and a turban.


To keep a number you might first write it down
Then teach your fingers a little samba of clicks,
The jagged keypad steps in a tactile rhythm
Set by a chant of practical voodoo. Vocal:
As intimate as a given name. The spell,
Seven-oh-one, Eight-six Two-two, remembered.


—Robert Pinsky



Pinsky on Green:


It is characteristic that Heather Green’s poem “Tidal Wave” locates its emotion— her fresh, distinctive calling up of the great traditional song of mortality— in the gallon bucket that an “old surfer” gave to some children as a practical lesson in the fragility of life: much in little, plain and mysterious. The poems of Heather Green speak plainly the language of solitude and of the world’s mysteries, resolving apparent opposites like the spirit of Dada and the spirit of truth, the tidal wave of time and one particular life with its treasures, flops and companions. As in her translations of poems by Tristan Tzara, each image glows. I marvel at how much emotion she conveys with the narrative context for “I carry/ The little bucket every day, a talisman . . . ” Her poem, without raising its voice, recounts a personal experience of mortality and of art, the tremendous ocean and the surviving, homely and courageous little talisman.



Tidal Wave


The word tsunami, harbor wave, evokes a swell
That rises like a muscle through a woodblock print
By Hokusai, or a heavy wall of water—the surface
Of the sea drawn up unreasonably—advancing on
The shore. Because tsunamis aren’t controlled by tides,
We cannot blame the moon, and the old phrase,
tidal wave, lives on freely in the figurative.


I’d had my midlife crisis several years before
The virus hit. Looking at the uncanny bounty
Of my suburban life, I’d wondered: Is this it?
Stuck outside of DC, undergoing chemotherapy,
A life so far from the cliffs and water, the drastic
Beauty of my West Coast home. I looked back:


We had gathered at one end of the lower field,
Where our sixth-grade teacher, an old surfer,
Had filled up gallon buckets full of water, which
We carried, one by one, the long length of damp grass.
The bucket hit me in the leg. The handle hurt
My hand. Cold water ran into my shoe. And then
She asked: “Was that gallon heavy? Was it hard?”
We nodded and set down our pails. “Because
Each wave contains a million gallons. And it can
All come down on you.” All summer long,
I swam, and sometimes tumbled, swallowing water
And sand, in awe. I recovered. I covered up


Most of what had been exposed, made peace
With the house, the place, with luck or fate. I carry
The little bucket every day, a talisman against
Underwater earthquakes, or next time—no boat,
The water total, for what could be washed away.



Robert Pinsky’s autobiography Jersey Breaks will appear this Fall. His most recent book of poetry is At the Foundling Hospital.


Heather Green is the author of No Other Rome and the translator of Tristan Tzara’s Noontimes Won.

Robert Pinsky is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.