by Stephen Burt


                                          because it is a sock, begins
the poem Nathan asked me to write, dictating
the title and first line, or half the first line (see above):
a sock is not a human being, being
unable to cry, burn dinner, forget to buy
dinner, or spread marmalade on toast.
It can't select clothes or get dressed in them or bathe itself,
nor does it interrupt me with shocking comments
in order to get the rest of us to take note. 

Although a sock can flaunt a personal style,
a sock is not a human being: no sock,
tube or dress-up, thick, fitted or frilly, argyle
or peppermint-striped, has ever gone home at noon
on its own, nor been sent home in order to change.
No sock can choose to run or not to run
or not to have a run, or wait to run,
for example, behind the final stand of pines
by the tremulous reservoir, brushing itself off the sand.

A sock can wear out, or wear art.
A sock can be torn apart
by the passage of time or sharp objects; it may not object
to harsh words, if that's how it's always been addressed.
A sock will never ask you for a rest. 

Some socks are masks,
with spangles woven on, or felt-tip pen.
If they have real names, no one ever asks.
They say what we make them say, whether they understand
much or any of it. In this way they resemble our friends. 

There are socks in this world that have tried too hard to fit in.
No sock, however, believes in original sin;
only some see a terrible split between women and men,
boys and girls, kinds of grown-ups, principally expressed
by decisions about which basket, drawer or bin. 


You can speak through your hat and pretend not to mean what you say,
or speak like a sock with great flat button eyes, matte-
black, tortoiseshell, magenta, or medium gray.
Not I, not I, says the sock, but the hand
that speaks through me, however reluctantly,
becomes the judge and wins the day.

STEPHEN BURT is Professor of English at Harvard. His next book of poems, Belmont, will appear from Graywolf in 2013. His recent books include The Art of the Sonnet, with David Mikics, and Why I Am Not a Toddler and Other Poems by Cooper Bennett Burt (Age One).

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