David Kirby

The Wisdom of Solomon

So these two women give birth at the same time.
                    But one child dies, and both women claim the living child.
Easy, says Solomon: Executioner, chop the baby in two,
          and give each woman half. Sounds good, says the false mom,
                    whereas the real mother says, No, no, let her have the baby!
That mom, the good one, knows it’s better

to have your son alive in someone else’s care,
                    a whole son learning to read and dress himself,
nursed during illness by a woman who is not
          his mother but who lifts spoonfuls of medicine to his lips,
                    who provides thousands of meals and swimming lessons,
a good education, “two clear eyes to read the world”—

better that than a boy cut in two by the king’s executioner.
                    As for the executioner, what is he feeling in this moment?
If he knows the story of Abraham and Isaac, maybe he
          thinks that, even if Solomon is serious, God will call
                    his bluff at the last minute, that an angel will jump out
from behind a column and say, Kidding! Just kidding.

Sacrifice this ram instead. The baby doesn’t
                    know anything. He doesn’t even know he’s a baby.
I wonder how many people reading
          this poem will even know what I’m talking about.
                    A hundred years ago, it would have been everybody,
but then science came along, and now half of us

never go to church or synagogue and therefore
                    may be wondering who Solomon is
and how stupid he must be to issue such
          a stupid order. The other half will know the story
                    well and may even enjoy this little extension of it
and the way in which the basics of plot and character

have been teased out into something different,
                    the way you might download a photograph
these days and open an editing app and turn
          the little wheel marked “contrast” and make
                    some aspects of the photo brighter, some not.
And that covers just about everyone who is either

an actor in this story or is standing outside of it,
                    looking on and wondering what comes next.
Everyone, that is, except me, who can’t decide
          if he wants a plain bagel today or one with poppy seeds.
                    The poppy seed bagel will taste better, but the seeds
will fly everywhere, and they’ll get stuck in my teeth.

The people behind me in line are beginning to mutter,
                    and well they should: either bagel will be fine,
and I can always get the other kind tomorrow.
          The reason why it takes forever to choose
                    a bagel is that the result will be equally satisfactory
either way: seeds or no seeds, the bagel I choose

will be good, and I’ll enjoy it, especially with
                    cream cheese. Whereas Solomon was as quick
as a stag leaping over a spring: he gave the order
          and sat back, knowing that human nature would
                    take care of the rest, though whether he became
king because he knew more about human nature

than anyone else or whether he acquired that knowledge
                    along the way is lost to history.
Who among us is fit to be king? Yea, for I am
          an empty vessel. When the deli man raps on
                    the counter and asks me what kind of bagel I want,
I look up as from a dream and say, Everything.

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Eternal Recurrence

          When Barbara says,"I ran into your car again,"
I’m, like, “Goddamn, Barbara!” but then
          I say, “Did you hit it where you always do?"

          and she says, "Oh, yeah—same spot. It's not that bad."
Barbara has what Freud called
          repetition compulsion, which means doing

          the same thing again and again unwittingly
or even doing it while trying not to,
          as when Tancred, hero of Tasso’s The Liberation

          of Jerusalem, accidentally kills Clorinda, the maiden
he loves, and then flees to the enchanted wood,
          where he flails about in his misery and gashes a tree

          from which blood flows and Clorinda’s voice is heard:
of all the trees in all the enchanted forests in
          the world, he hews the one in which her soul is imprisoned.

          Look, it’s not that hard. Just notice where my car is,
notice where your car is in relation
          to mine, then back up without running into it.

          Or maybe the problem stems from the fact that
that we park our cars too close together,
          meaning the first person to back out in the morning

          is very likely to drive her car into the car that belongs
to the other person, which leads us to the idea
          of amor fati or “love of fate,” as the old Romans had it,

          or even “love of one’s fate,” that is, the attitude which
says that everything that happens in one's life,
          including suffering, loss, and minor damage

          to motor vehicles is good or at the very least
necessary in that these are the facts
          of one's life whether one likes them or not.

          This spirit of acceptance does not rule out attempts
to improve one’s lot but has more to do
          with what Nietzsche calls "eternal recurrence”

          and the sense of contentment with one's life
that goes along with it, such that one could live
          exactly the same life over and over for all eternity.

          All you have to do is put your fucking coffee down
and pay attention as you back out of the driveway
          and not think about what you’ll be doing the rest of the day.

          I mean, how hard can it be? The two cars are always
at least a couple of yards apart, and you don’t have
          to miss mine by a mile; an inch or two will do.

          Ethnopolitical groups fall victim to repetition compulsion;
they can’t stop fighting because they’re used to it—
          they’re most comfortable when they’re at war.

          Ethnopolitical groups do not embrace the concept of amor fati:
nobody loves constant fear and mistrust.
          But peace is unsettling, so they submit to the tyranny of routine.

          No, there’s no way this is my fault. See where my car is?
It’s so far to the left that it’s almost in the garden.
          So when you come home, park your car more to the right.

          I know they didn’t cover running into your husband’s car
in driver’s ed, but they never imagined that a man’s car
          would be hit again and again by the person he loves most, either.

          What is love, anyway? Nobody knows. All we know is
that if you say, “I love you” to the right person, they’ll say,
          “I love you, too,” and you keep saying it, over and over.

 


David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.