Poem about People

By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky
The jaunty crop-haired graying   
Women in grocery stores,   
Their clothes boyish and neat,   
New mittens or clean sneakers,

Clean hands, hips not bad still,   
Buying ice cream, steaks, soda,   
Fresh melons and soap—or the big   
Balding young men in work shoes

And green work pants, beer belly   
And white T-shirt, the porky walk   
Back to the truck, polite; possible   
To feel briefly like Jesus,

A gust of diffuse tenderness   
Crossing the dark spaces
To where the dry self burrows   
Or nests, something that stirs,

Watching the kinds of people   
On the street for a while—
But how love falters and flags   
When anyone’s difficult eyes come

Into focus, terrible gaze of a unique   
Soul, its need unlovable: my friend   
In his divorced schoolteacher   
Apartment, his own unsuspected

Paintings hung everywhere,
Which his wife kept in a closet—
Not, he says, that she wasn’t   
Perfectly right; or me, mis-hearing

My rock radio sing my self-pity:
“The Angels Wished Him Dead”—all   
The hideous, sudden stare of self,   
Soul showing through like the lizard

Ancestry showing in the frontal gaze   
Of a robin busy on the lawn.
In the movies, when the sensitive   
Young Jewish soldier nearly drowns

Trying to rescue the thrashing   
Anti-semitic bully, swimming across   
The river raked by nazi fire,
The awful part is the part truth:

Hate my whole kind, but me,
Love me for myself. The weather   
Changes in the black of night,
And the dream-wind, bowling across

The sopping open spaces
Of roads, golf courses, parking lots,   
Flails a commotion
In the dripping treetops,

Tries a half-rotten shingle
Or a down-hung branch, and we   
All dream it, the dark wind crossing   
The wide spaces between us.

Robert Pinsky, “Poem About People” from Sadness and Happiness. Copyright © 1975 by Princeton University Press, renewed 2003. Reprinted with the permission of Princeton University Press.

Source: The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Robert Pinsky b. 1940

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Cities & Urban Life, Love, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Realistic & Complicated

 Robert  Pinsky


Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Cities & Urban Life, Love, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.