Ira Sadoff from Emotional Traffic, David R. Godine, 1989
Edited by Christopher Seid | Illustration by Friederike Hamann
In the brief afternoons of February,
when the whole God question comes up
like a knock on the door from Jehovah’s witnesses—
no, not like them, but really them
and their stack of newspapers and questions, swirling
in the snow—I’m cautious, impatient, defenseless.
I guard the door like St. Peter or Cerberus,
The Word before it’s written. We discuss the proof
of the snowflake, God’s design and the sin of the self.
We require uplifting because of the chill
and the solitude, because we project onto the pines
endings and beginnings, the whiteness of snow
in the darkening quill of afternoon,
where January can no longer be corrected; December’s
a parent’s perpetual death and July a child’s fairy tale.
But now they’re at my door with their gloomy accusations,
and because of the lateness of the hour,
because I have no defense, no justification
outside myself, I invite them in for tea—
together, white man and black man, the lapsed
and the saved, we watch the wind push the snow,
we listen to the woodstove chatter and whisper and hiss.
Ira Sadoff is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Barter and Grazing (University of Illinois) and a collection of essays, History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of Culture (University of Iowa Press, 2009). He currently teaches at Colby College and the MFA program at Drew University. “Poems are meant to move readers, and moving suggests change, revising the way we look at the world. So the best poems adventurously question and unsettle: their difficulty is life’s difficulty, which is to fully inhabit experience with its infinite pains and pleasures.”