The best poems, no one wants to read.
People who really wish to donate blood
climb onto actual gurneys and give a pint;
the rest of us just hit the cookies table.

But if worse comes to worst, they’re there,
one for every desperate contingency.
If space aliens land to enslave mankind,
there’s a dire poem ready to repel them.
The CDC lays up a second in Fort Detrick,
the Pope a third in the Vatican Archives,
a fourth—weightiest of all, it’s whispered—
in the Break Glass in Case of Emergency
box outside the Pizza Hut on Route 11.

Every one of the authors has been blinded
and stripped of their identity like Homer.
They’ve been thanked for their service
and invested with numbered signet rings
but are never invited to the Nobel podium.

There are slip-ups. I once saw two lines
of one by accident in a Golden Treasury
in the St. Mary’s Grammar School library.
The woman who ran it was unfrocked
and discovered to be a closet Sappho.
Me—I’ve never really been the same,
nor even wanted to be. All that’s too late.
I know lines 3-4 are out there somewhere,
but they must contain the courage. I don’t.

I believe that something similar happened
to the Wayfarer and the Seafarer of old,
to the Ancient Mariner, to Ahab.
I have to tie myself to the mattress at night.
I’m constrained to tell my wife I love her.


Tom Riordan lives in New Jersey. He’s a retired restaurant worker and teacher, and dreams about becoming pope for his next career.

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