Friday, April 17, 2009

The Firemen, a poem by Deborah Garrison.

Deborah Garrison is poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon Books. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1965, Garrison earned her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Brown University in 1986. She subsequently earned her master's degree in literature from New York University. Her first book of poetry, A Working Girl Can't Win, did remarkably well, selling 30,000 copies when even some Pulitzer Prize-winning poets are lucky to sell one-tenth that. The poems were about young women in love, out of love, making love and working in Manhattan. Most were written when Ms. Garrison was in her 20s and childless, living in the East Village and climbing the career ladder at The New Yorker.

Any discussion of Garrison's work tends to lead to a debate over whether poetry that isn't complex and obscure can be considered good. As a poet and an editor, Garrison expresses an interest in having more readers experience the enrichment that poetry can bring because, as she says, "most readers don't even know they need poetry." She also notes that, "Poetry can be pretentious sometimes, and if people feel poetry is this high citadel that you can't get into, it's bad for poetry."

The Firemen by Deborah Garrison.

God forgive me –

It’s the firemen,
leaning in the firehouse garage
with their sleeves rolled up
on the hottest day of the year.

As usual, the darkest one is handsomest.
The oldest is handsomest.
The one with the thin wiry arms is handsomest.
The young one already going bald is handsomest.

And so on.
Every day I pass them at their station:
The word sexy wouldn’t do them justice.
Such idle men are divine –

especially in summer, when my hair
sticks to the back of my neck,
a dirty wind from the subway grate
blows my skirt up, and I feel vulgar,

lifting my hair, gathering it together,
tying it back while they watch
as a kind of relief.
Once, one of them walked beside me

to the corner. Looked into my eyes.
He said, “Will I never see you again?”
Gutsy, I thought.
I’m afraid not, I thought.

What I said was I’m Sorry.
But how could he look into my eyes
if I didn’t look equally into his?
I’m sorry: as though he’d come close, as though

this really was a near miss.