Found Parable

By J. D. McClatchy b. 1945
In the men’s room at the office today
some wag has labelled the two stalls
    the Erotic and the Political.
The second seems suitable for the results
of my business, not for what thinking
    ordinarily accompanies it.
So I’ve locked myself into the first because,
though farther from the lightbulb overhead,
    it remains the more conventional
and thereby illuminating choice.
The wit on its walls is more desperate.
    As if I had written them
there myself, but only because by now
I have seen them day after day,
    I know each boast, each plea,
the runty widower’s resentments,
the phone number for good head.
    Today’s fresh drawing:
a woman’s torso, neck to outflung knees,
with breasts like targets and at her crotch
    red felt-tip “hair” to guard
a treasure half wound, half wisecrack.
The first critic of the flesh is always
    the self-possessed sensualist.
With all that wall as his margin,
he had sniffed in smug ballpoint
Under that, in a later hand,
    the local pinstripe aesthete
had dismissed the daydreamer’s crudity
and its critic’s edgy literalism.
    His block letters had squared,
not sloping shoulders: NO,
    Were the two opinions
converging on the same moral point?
That a good drawing is the real thing?
    Or that the real thing
can be truly seen only through another’s
eyes? But now that I trace it through
    other jokes and members,
the bottom line leads to a higher inch
of free space on the partition—
    a perch above the loose
remarks, like the pimp’s doorway
or the Zen master’s cliff-face ledge.
writes the philosopher. But he too
has been misled by everything
    the mind makes of a body.
When the torso is fleshed out
and turns over in the artist’s bed,
    when the sensualist sobs over her,
when the critic buttons his pants,
when the philosopher’s scorn sinks back
    from a gratified ecstasy,
then it will be clear to each
in his own way. There is nothing
    we cannot possibly not know.

J. D. McClatchy, “Found Parable” from Ten Commandments. Copyright © 1998 by J. D. McClatchy. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Ten Commandments (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)

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

Poet J. D. McClatchy b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Humor & Satire, Men & Women, The Body

 J. D. McClatchy


J.D. McClatchy’s poetry is marked by formal adeptness, lyrical control and a wide range of influences—including classical literature, music, and opera. Praised for their polished, erudite surfaces as well as the depths of thought, philosophy, and feeling beneath the facade, McClatchy treats subjects as diverse as Japanese history, the body, and his own autobiography. Often depicting the unsettling and disturbing realities that . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Humor & Satire, Men & Women, The Body

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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.