Empathy

Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. Poet Laureate, often talks about poetry as vehicle to bridge the gap between people. I read a thoughtful interview with her in the Washington Square Review. In it, they asked about the writerly evolution in her work. She said this about her most recent book, Wade in the Water:

“I don’t yet know how to classify Wade in the Water. In part, I think it’s true to say that the selves I’m most committed to in that book are the ones our culture continues to make most vulnerable: women, people of color, the lonely and disenfranchised.  But I truly hope it’s more than that. I often think of a wonderful Marie Howe poem called “The Star Market” which begins: “The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.” These are the old, the sick, the people a healthy young person might recoil from. Jesus also loved the foolish, the pushy, the stubborn, the fickle. Maybe I am asking my new poems to remind me that I am one of those people, that America is one of those people.”

 

Us


The people Jesus loves make their way to work on foot, the dew wilting their shirt collars.
The people Jesus loves plot appointments by the handful of bus schedules fanned out on the cracked surface of their kitchen table.
The people Jesus loves furl their bodies under tarps and discarded plastic, the cold air wetter when their bed is the sidewalk. 
The people Jesus loves shop at Super Choice and Bravo, at Aldi’s and Apna, at Publix and Kroger.

I forget this sometimes in morning traffic when I’m cut off.
I forget this when I curse the dullards driving 25 in a 40 zone.
I forget everything when I watch them, the reckless, slice a sharp diagonal across three lanes.
The knowledge of it is furthest away when the richly dissatisfied complain about nothing
and everything, unhappiness a white skim along their mouth, heart, and mind.

Before resentment strips the good words from my mouth, let me remember the people Jesus loves is us.

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