The True Self

by Carl Dennis

You have to keep alert if you want to distinguish
Between a man giving by nature
And a man selfish by nature
Who’d like to become more giving.

Both men volunteer to work one night a week
In the kitchen at Loaves and Fishes,
Dishing out tuna casserole to the regulars.

For the one giving by nature, it’s a pleasure
To help in a task where there’s no delay
Between wish and accomplishment.
For the one selfish by nature, it’s a pleasure
To behave all evening like someone else.

Here comes one of them back from a walk
To the farthest grocery, the only store
Supplied by growers fair to their pickers.
Is it the giving one, eager to help the deserving,
Or the selfish one who hopes to become,
With practice, more moved by the thought
Of acting justly than he’s been so far,
To find it congenial, not merely proper?

To guess who’s who, you have to notice
Which one needs a nap in the afternoon,
A sign of the extra work required
To learn the lines of a part that feels unnatural.
And then the work of speaking
With such conviction that even he
Will be uncertain he can tell the difference
Between the man he’s playing
And the man he is.