All Commentary
Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Impoverishment of Our Imagination


His operatic voice on the sidewalk
was an embarrassment.
Clearly well-educated, we sensed
he suffered from something familiar,
but which we could not name.
When he sang in full tenor,
historical characters in gala costume
approached us on the street,
and the history of ideas
crouched and waited in the shadows of the alley.

We imagined a King’s Court and choreography.
He’d thrust out a gold chalice
we mistook for a dented, tin drinking cup,
for mortals to do whatever it is we do with money.
He trusted we would not forget the greatness
of Rameses or Alexander.
We heard all that in his minor thirds.
There was no libretto, no plot. There was no need.
His aria cantabile celebrated the Renaissance,
the discovery of planets and stars.

When his voice fell,
the modern world descended into war and despair.
As he finished the last note —
in an awkward crescendo —
we looked at each other, not knowing what to say.
Some of us had something in our pockets
to drop in his cup and some of us did not.
We walked away,
never found out what happened to him.

We imagined police threw his sleeping bag
into a garbage truck, while the proprietor
of cheap electronics in the store
behind the alley whispered relief at last,
and hosed down the sidewalk.


  • Paul Dickey is the author of two collections of poems, Wires Over the Homeplace (Pinyon Publishing, 2013) and They Say This Is How Death Came into the World (Mayapple Press, 2011).