Jack The Believer

by Paul Christensen

When Jack said getting his first real job
(SMU in Dallas) saved his life,
he was like an trapeze artist
in the Cirque de Soleil, good
at flipping thin, tight bodies
through the air, each against the edge
of the dark, escaping death just as he reached
out his hands
                        to write another poem,

light hearted, ironic, what you learn
in the iron wrought winters of New York
if you’re sensitive, and Jewish.

He had his light on
all the time, flashing in a blind alley,
a cat’s ravaged eyes, a student’s
inarticulate questions sobbed out
in an office at four p.m.
When Jack reached over and cut
a poem in half, switched the ending
to the beginning, the student,
crushed by the weight of her own
stupidity, pulled off the mask
of watery despair, and smiled.

Save me, save me, his audience
cries in its stony muteness,
tell me I am a fool, that I cannot
stand the lousy world I invented.
And Jack would remove
the dignifying robes of art
and stand before them, half
clown, half sage from the woods
teaching them a foreign language
while they interrupted him with laughter.