Two Poems

David Kirby

                                                      The Hard-Charging Businessman


                        Like us, the hard-charging businessman is having dinner

            on the terrace of the hotel at Mycenae, only he is taking
                        phone calls as well, and while the rest of us are marveling
over the untouched nature of the tombs at the nearby
                        archeological site or puzzling with our dinner companions
            over the whys and wherefores of Bronze Age
                        technology, the hard-charging businessman is shouting at the person


                        on the other end of the line about the units that went here,
            the ones that went there, the ones that were supposed to go
                        someplace else but didn’t. Greece, how beautiful you are.
Your temples, your streams and lakes, your willows and oleanders

                        and olive groves, your wild orchids, cyclamens,
            and gladiolas. Why didn’t you tell me earlier, cries
                        the hard-charging businessman? Someone’s going to pay


                        for this, I’m not made of money, I’ll make a fool of myself
            if I feel like it, tell Sammy I’m going to kill him.
                        Kick ass, hard-charging businessman! The rest of us
are tucking into our grilled fish and sneaking tidbits
                        to Omar, the hotel cat, and even though we can’t decide
            which are prettier, the olive trees or the cypress
                        trees, we all agree that water the color of sapphires


                        is the prettiest of all. There’s going to be hell to pay

            when I get back from Belgium, says the hard-charging
                        businessman, heads will roll, no bonuses this year,
I want everybody in my office Tuesday morning
                        at ten.  Sweet is the night air here on  the terrace

            of the hotel at Mycenae, only, from the long line
                        of spray where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,


                        you can hear the hard-charging businessman as he kicks
            more and more ass. Oh, oh—bad Omar! When
                        the hard-charging businessman steps away from
his table to take an especially complicated call,
                        Omar jumps up on his table and helps himself
            to the hard-charging businessman’s fish! Everyone
                        has a good laugh—well, not the hard-charging


                       businessman. Yet does not the hard-charging businessman

            kick ass so the rest of us don’t have to? Is your fish
                        as fresh as though it just leapt from the sapphire-blue
water that morning? Are the sheets on your bed
                        at the hotel here in Mycenae soft and clean?
            Will your car start, will your bank card work
                        when you visit the ATM, will there be olives


                        and cheese and bread and apples at the little store
            you go to for your picnic supplies? Will there even be
                        an ATM? And when you stop your car for the picnic,
will it start again? If the answers to these questions
                        are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, chances are
            someone had to kick someone else’s ass to make

                        all that happen. And therefore let not you, reader,


                        who are as much of a toffee-nosed aesthete as I am,
            look down that excellent organ of olfactory perception
                        at the hard-charging businessman, no matter how
much ass he kicks or how hard he kicks it. As for you,
                        Omar, if you have been spayed, that is because
            the hard-charging businessman either paid taxes
                        to support a spay and neuter clinic or made a charitable


                        donation to one or both, neither one of which he could have
            have done had he not kicked a certain amount of ass. So you
                        needn’t stick your leg over your head and lick yourself
and then wander off as though nothing happened.

                        Fuck you, Omar! Just kidding. This world needs
            the hard-charging businessman and you.
                        And the fish. And if you’re not spayed, you should be.

 About the Writer

​​David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His most recent poetry collection is A Wilderness of Monkeys. For more information, see


                                                    What If the Germans Had Won?


                        Would it have been so bad? Probably they would
            have gotten tired of our candy-ass ways
and gone back to Germany—the Mongolians asked
                        the Bolsheviks for help in 1921, but after the Reds
            sent troops to beat back the Chinese, they oppressed
their hosts until they got tired of it and left, meaning
                        that everybody in Mongolian today is Mongolian again,


                        not Russian and certainly not Chinese. We’d have
            had to speak German for a couple of years, but then
we’d all be bilingual, wouldn’t we? We’d be fully
                        globalized and ready to do business with our new
            friends, the Germans. Okay, you’d have to put Hitler
to one side, but isn’t that what poetry’s for? Kokoschka
                        was admitted into the same art school the future


                        Führer applied to, but "unfortunately Hitler failed
            the exam. If I had failed in his place, the world would
have been spared a good deal of misery,” said the artist;
                        “Hitler would have become a bad painter, and I should
            have become a reasonable, understanding politician.”
Hitler would have ended up giving lessons to schoolkids,
                        muttering about foreigners in cafés, and showing in


                        a friend’s gallery every few years, if he’d had a friend.
            Oh, poetry, why can’t you make all this happen?
You’re part words, part music; can’t you draw a crowd
                        with your pipes and timbrels and then talk sense
            into them? Don’t tell Music I said so, but you’re better
than it. Hitler’s goons listened to Beethoven as they built
                        their death camps and marched the people into them.


                        They should have listened to Rossini: when you listen
            to Beethoven, says a character in Gravity’s Rainbow,
all you want to do is invade Poland, but with Rossini,
                        the lovers unite, isolation is overcome, walls are breached,
            balconies scaled—listen! “The Italian girl is in Algiers,”
he says, “the Barber’s in the crockery, the magpie’s
                        stealing everything in sight!” In the midst of greed,


                        pettiness, and the abuse of power, love occurs;

            shit is turned into gold, and the whole world
rushes together. Poetry does that, too, only not in big concert halls.

                        Poetry, you’re a woman reading in a chair by firelight;
            you’re reading Yeats, how Love paces the mountains
and hides his face amid the stars, and you pause
                        to put another log on the fire and go back


                        to your book. Or you’re a man in Paris waiting for
            the waiter to bring his coffee, or you’re two lovers
in a meadow—you’re certainly not an auditorium bursting with thugs
                        in their death’s-head uniforms and their brittle
            wives. Oh, you remember war: the Iliad is more or less
a training manual for that pastime. But a better poem is the Odyssey
                        with its wily hero, at once wise and arrogant,


                        like, well, pretty much everybody. Or the way most of us
            think of ourselves, at least. Serb poet Vasko Popa says poetry
is not written by lovesick teenagers but by sly old tricksters.
                        You go from house to house in every neighborhood, poetry,
            from table to table, field to field. You don’t say, “Stop killing!”
to the people. You don’t say anything, really. When I read
            you, I don’t want to kill anyone, though I guess someone


                        could kill me as I weep and chuckle, totally engrossed.
            Okay, anonymous assassin, cut it out! Go kill
somebody else! Wait, don’t kill anybody. Here, read this poem,
                        it’s by Schiller, Goethe, Heine, Rilke, some little girl
            who doesn’t even know she’s a poet yet. Okay, Astrid
or Gretchen or Dagmar or whatever your name is, let’s see
                                    what you’ve written. Hey, not bad for a kid! Keep it up.