What I do for Others

I need my wife around--I think
tonight, as I wash the pan I fried
bacon and potatoes in--to cook
for her, in which case I’d poach
a little sole with a Korean
dipping sauce and maybe some baby
greens just touched with vinegar.

This is the way I help others,
how I satisfy the dentist’s
compulsive worries over my teeth,
the doctor’s concerns for my health.

Almost every day I stop by
the Loaf and Jug where the clerk
needs money but is afraid to ask
so I give him some, although to shield
his embarrassment he hands me one
of the cigars he’s hired to guard.

And sometimes, wife away, I eat
at the little café down town
so the waitress has someone
to call honey. After I leave,
she feels warm and full all night.

(Tar River Poetry, 2008)


As with many of my poems, the concept starts with reality. As my wife has a full-time job and I’m retired, I do ‘”help” out by cooking. Making my own dinner one night when she had a meeting, I realized the difference between what I’d cook for myself and what I’d cook for the both of us (something better). This led to the strange reversal of doing things one would do for oneself to doing it for other people, e.g. going to the dentist to help the dentist, to the doctor to help him. I was charmed by this speaker who put everything onto others and tried to keep it up by imagining that I was helping a clerk when I bought a cigar and, finally, that I was helping a waitress by eating out. I end with the absurd reversal that she feels “warm and full all night”, understanding that it is obviously the speaker who ends up that way.

The rhythm of the lines vary from 7 to 9 syllables, a favorite form of mine, as working with syllables allows one to keep the lines roughly the same length and yet vary them so the rhythm sounds fairly conversational.