Golden Age

Even in fortunate times,

The nectar is spiked with woe.

Gods are incorrigibly

Capricious, and the needy

Beg in Nineveh or sleep

In paper-gusting plazas

Of the New World's shopping malls.

Meantime, the tyrant battens

On conquest, while advisers,

Angling for preferment, seek

Expedient paths. Heartbroken,

The faithful advocate looks

Back on cities of the plain

And trudges into exile.

And if any era thrives,

It's only because, somewhere,

In a plane tree's shade, friends sketch

The dust with theorems and proofs,

Or because, instinctively,

A man puts his arm around

The shoulder of grief and walks

It (for an hour or an age)

Through all its tears and telling.

from Sapphics Against Anger and Other Poems, 1986