after a photograph by August Sander

Adam Kirsch


What was the use of the inverted cone
That floats surreally above her desk
LIke an umbrella or a megaphone
Of blackened metal? No one's left to ask,

Or tell how she would operate the tier
Of dials and boxes bristling on the wall
Which look already as in twenty years
Her typewriter will: illegible

As all those emblems that the Renaissance
Littered its portraits with like business cards.
The obsolescence of her instruments
Explains more clearly than she could in words

What work it is she does: the management
Of paper and the hurrying of time
Down the deep hole where all her colleagues went
And where we'll go, whose labor is the same. 






after a photograph by August Sander 

The effort that it took to hide
Her captioned wifeliness inside
A man's short hair, a shirt and tie,
Ballooning trousers belted high
To hide her hips, a cigarette
When good girls weren't smoking yet,
Is unconcealable. Success
Is knowing what she must transgress
To be considered up to date,
A suitably inventive mate
For some painter we do not see,
Although it's safe to say that he
Does not feel that he has to wear
A skirt or ribbons in his hair
To prove that his bohemian
Bona fides are genuine;
The womanhood that she denies
Returns in what she can't disguise,
The lifelong difference between
His seeing and her being seen.






after a photograph by August Sander

The man he was that morning on the bus
Or will be when he climbs in bed at night
Has vanished wholly in the fretful focus
Needed to get his calculations right;

Intent on pouring something in a tube,
He strikes the pose we all know from TV
Stands for the scientific rectitude
Of all men in white coats--which he would be,

If not for layers of sedimented grime
That turn his own the unhygienic brown
Common to laborers who spend their time
On tasks whose higher purpose is unknown,

Himself an apparatus to be tossed
Aside when broken or grown obsolete,
His honor and reward to have been used
Without inquiring for whose benefit.



ADAM KIRSCH is the author of two books of poems, The Thousand Wells and Invasions. His most recent book is Why Trilling Matters.

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