“Population,” Mark Halliday

Isn’t it nice that everyone has a grocery list
except the very poor you hear about occasionally
we all have a grocery list on the refrigerator door;
at any given time there are thirty million lists in America
that say BREAD. Isn’t it nice
not to be alone in this. Sometimes
you visit someone’s house for the first time
and you spot the list taped up on a kitchen cabinet
and you think Yes, we’re all in this together.
TOILET PAPER. No getting around it.
Nice to think of us all
unwrapping the new rolls at once,
forty thousand of us at any given moment.

Orgasm, of course, being the most vivid example: imagine
an electrified map wired to every American bed:
those little lights popping
on both sides of the Great Divide,
popping to beat the band. But
we never beat the band: within an hour or a day
we’re horny again, or hungry, or burdened with waste.
But isn’t it nice to be not noticeably responsible,
acquitted eternally in the rituals of the tribe:
it’s only human! It’s only human and that’s not much.

So, aren’t you glad we have such advanced farm machinery,
futuristic fertilizers, half a billion chickens
almost ready to die. Here come the loaves of bread for us
thup, thup thup thup for all of us thup thup
except maybe the very poor
thup thup
and man all the cattle we can fatten up man,
there’s no stopping our steaks. And that’s why
we can make babies galore, baby:
let’s get on with it. Climb aboard.
Let’s be affirmative here, let’s be pro-life for God’s sake
how can life be wrong?
People need people and the happiest people are
surrounded with friendly flesh.
If you have ten kids they’ll be so sweet –
ten really sweet kids! Have twelve!
What if there were 48 pro baseball teams,
you could see a damn lot more games!
And in this fashion we get away
from tragedy. Because tragedy comes when someone
gets too special. Whereas,

if forty thousand kitchen counters
on any given Sunday night
have notes on them that say
you can feel how your note is
no big thing in America,
so, no horrible heartbreak,
it’s more like a TV episode,
you’ve seen this whole plot lots of times
and everybody gets by –
you feel better already –
everybody gets by
and it’s nice. It’s a people thing.
You’ve got to admit it’s nice.

“Sheep,” Jane Hirshfield

It is the work of feeling
to undo expectation.

A black-faced sheep
looks back at you as you pass
and your heart is startled
as if by the shadow
of someone once loved.

Neither comforted by this
nor made lonely.

Only remembering
that a self in exile is still a self,
as a bell unstruck for years
is still a bell.