Sample text for The incentive of the maggot : poems / Ron Slate ; [foreword by Robert Pinsky].


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WRITING OFF ARGENTINA

This morning the peso is free-floating
above the unstable world of Borges.

He knew Buenos Aires was not a city
to die in. Geneva was that much closer

to the other world. When the system fails
the theory of the system becomes pure

and the housewives of Buenos Aires gather
outside Congress and bang their pots and
pans,

and their husbands gather outside the
courthouse
and jangle their car keys, proudly to ask,

What have you done to our good life?
Brazilian joke: Why do Argentines run
outdoors

when there's lightning? Because they
think God
is taking their photograph.

Borges asked, What man has never felt
that he has lost something infinite?

When the economy falls apart, you feel
that loss,
plus your pesos deflate to illustrate.

Yesterday on the Avenida Borges,we lived
in this world, but what were we like?

We took our dollars to buy leather coats
at the shop of Esteban Umansky,

who gave each of us a hat and gloves.
The president himself attended

our reception, and the ex-president,
now under house arrest for the millions

in his Swiss account. So the Argentines
go to Switzerland to hoard and die,

and we go to Buenos Aires to shop and live.
When Borges went to Geneva to die

the Argentines thought it was some kind
of poetic conceit. They were too cocky
to see

he had given up trying to express himself.
Something great had been lost, some
treasure.

He had decided all men are benighted.
This morning of the wrecked and plundered

I am all-seeing but my soul is blind.
I feel very much like myself.

In pursuit of a deal in leather,
in pursuit of one's money in the
shuttered banks,

we are forgetting how to be decently
unhappy.
Learn from the global lenders, writing off

their bad Argentine debts. Their dual
wisdom:
First, understanding the loss. Then,

understanding there's nothing to be done.
I understand and I love my odorous coat

and Esteban made me a jacket as well
at a price not to be believed.




THE FINAL CALL

Is this the end of the world?
No, just the end
of the language that describes it.

So the end happens
but no one says anything.
It"s a downturn, not a collapse,

an economist explains.
The pair of polite apostles ringing
my doorbell are in no rush to die.

In the literature of the last days
there are many typos.
Dead, dread, bread, take your pick.

Whoever is saying it's over
refuses to specify demands,
makes no ultimatums, it's just over.

What kind of language is that?
Analysts are antic with interpretation,
think tanks are flooding with thoughts.

The global information network
backs up the data, streams it up
to one of Jupiter's moons.

The ram's horn heralds
our coming from the hills.
We're enslaved by that sound.

We're called to hang-glide
from hilltops into the open air
where we verify and counterpunch.

Ah, another soft landing.
Though this time a rather large sheet of sky
tangles and trails down after us.




BELGIUM

Invented by the British to annoy
the French, so said De Gaulle.
The Belgians are rude but live to please,

live by pleasing. Speaking languages.
Renting their houses.
They're not rude, they just drive that way.

We dress for dinner
but the ambassador dresses down.
The western nations don"t understand
each other.

Never to go to war with one another again.
Invented by the western nations
to annoy the Chinese.

Our ambassador dresses down.
It's his wife's birthday.
Staff of eight lives to please.

Herbert Hoover saved Belgium in 1915
with seven million tons for eleven million.
Saved Belgium from Germany and England

who misunderstood each other.
Hoover believed in uncommon men.
The ambassador is an uncommon man.

He and others come to Brussels
for reassurance, each voice will be heard,
each nation will achieve the goal

of living off all the other nations.
A relation of men dominating men.
Now it's your turn, now mine.

The guards take a look under the limo
and wipe for traces of ill intent.
The European conscience is as clean as
Antarctica.

Tiny pyramids of chocolate,
a dollop of chocolate inside.
We undress for bed, the ambassador

puts on his tuxedo pants, for fit.
I sign the guest book in the morning:
First it was your time to please.

Next time it"s mine.

Copyright © 2005 by Ron Slate. Reprinted
by permission of Houghton Mifflin
Company.


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