a man may change


A Man May Change
Marvin Bell

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

you would know


You Would Know
Marvin Bell

That you, Father, are “in my mind,”
some will argue, who cherish the present
but flee the past. They haven’t my need
to ask, What was I? Asking instead,
What am I?, they see themselves bejeweled
and wingèd. Because they would fly and have value,
their answers are pretty but false:
the fixings of facile alchemists,
preferring their stones to brains.
The brain, remember, is not foolproof
either, and does and does until it can’t.
Sodden, quivering, crossed and recrossed,
the mind can become a headstone
or be malice stuffed with fish.
Everything changes so quickly. You who were
are no longer and what I was I’m not.
Am I to know myself, except as I was?
The rest is catchy, self-promising, false.
Oh please write to me, and tell me.
I just want to be happy again. That’s
what I was, happy, maybe am, you would know.

song of social despair


Song of Social Despair
Marvin Bell

Ethics without faith, excuse me,
is the butter and not the bread.
You can’t nourish them all, the dead
pile up at the hospital doors.
And even they are not so numerous
as the mothers come in maternity.
The Provider knows his faults—
love of architecture and repair—
but will not fall into them for long:
he can’t afford the adolescent luxury,
the fellowship of the future
looks greedily toward his family.
The black keys fit black cylinders
in the locks in holes in the night.
He had a skeleton key once,
a rubber arm and complete confidence.
Now, as head of the family, he is
inevitably on the wrong side looking out.