“Desks”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 31 2012 6:15 AM

“Desks”

Cluttered desk.

Photograph by Michaela Stejskalov/Hemera.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Don Bogen read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

Old papers, old stationery, I know, in the heavy drawers
With filigreed brass pulls that dropped and clanged when you opened them
Everything stuffed in there: letters, bills, odd wallet-sized photos
Dried-out pens nestled along the edges of the ruffled piles
Shifting textures of paper, stiff plastic, and cardboard in different weights
Address books, old calendars, an envelope full of checks, announcements from businesses

All of these clamoring in their mute voices
Print under logos, typing that showed where a finger slipped or a key caught
The loopy handwriting of my mother before she got sick
Filling the space between the light-blue lines on the folded pages
My mother, or my grandmother—which paper, which desk, where
The bright dining room or the dim one, neither much used

I can choose at will, I can pull at the tight drawers and work them open
The handles clattering, the crammed-in papers expanding a bit, as if able to breathe
I am comfortable now, my ballpoint fluent, I am reading what I see
I look up from each desk and find either small, gold-framed pictures, a ballerina under glass
And a stack of paid bills wrapped with a rubber band
Or a light brown wall where memory has neglected to set anything

Through four generations it has gone on fading, it has never been repainted
Because it's near the archway to the living room, light barely reaches it
The other desk splits light, dispensing it among the photos and geegaws
The mountains are behind it, they loom over the shoulder of someone writing there
Who is a ghost, lost, absorbed in a task and thus fully alive
Paying no attention to her desk or the others

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.

Don Bogen is the author of four books of poetry, most recently An Algebra. He is the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?