Scoundrel Time

Report a Problem With This Poem

as noted on the Poetry Foundation website

This poem isn’t meant for you or for anyone, really—
hairpin scratches in wet clay, hardly cuneiform,
whatever came to mind then left as quickly.

Resistant, like a child whose fist clamps around
a forbidden piece of candy, so melted now
into shapelessness the child licks the lines of his palm

and thrusts it at your face. “There, all gone.”
And yes, you could pretend to be a palm reader
polishing up your own carnival act:

“I see the acrid emptiness of our era, the oblique
impossibility of meaning, and how you’ve caught
it here in vivid fragments, dragon scales

and a shopping list. I see how it eats its own tail,
its head finally up its own ass, and that is risky
and altogether wonderful.” Go along with the gag,

agree that the Emperor’s in Armani or Ralph Lauren
while his sorry little bag of nuts is swinging
gently in the wind as he struts the runway.

Take a thousand lie detector tests, fail every one.
No matter: the operator’s in on it. When the poem is read
to a full house, the audience holds its collective breath,

asphyxiated. Polite applause will follow. A learned
article or two. But you? It’s like being burglarized
in reverse: Nothing’s missing, nothing’s rearranged;

still, you’re feeling, well, ripped off. You could pull on
your smug mask—hooded eyes, bitten lip, collar
way up to hide your limp neck hairs, un-thrilled.

Or, you could report a problem with that poem.