Pajama Quotient

By Linda Gregerson b. 1950 Linda Gregerson
Coinage of the not-yet-wholly-
             hardened custodians of public
health, as health is roughly measured
             in the rougher parts of Dearborn.

Meaning, how many parents,
             when things get bad, are wearing
what they’ve slept in when they come
             to pick up the kids at school.

The best of talk, said someone
             once, is shop talk: we can go
to it as to a well. But manifolds
             and steering racks are going

the way of the wells—offshore—
             so the-nifty-thing-you-do-

has become a ghastly shorthand for
             despair among the people
you are paid to help. Despair,
             sometimes, of helping. In

the winter dawn a decade and a half
             ago, we’d gather around
the school bus stop—the unshaved
             fathers, mothers, dogs,

the siblings in their snowsuits—so
             the children bound for
Johnson Elementary might have
             a proper sending-off.
The privileged of the earth, in our
             case: words and stars
and molecules were all our care,
             a makeshift village blessed

with time and purpose. And
             a school bus stop,
to make it seem like life. By far my
             favorites were the Russian

mathematicians: bathrobes hanging
             below their parkas, cigarettes
scattering ash, their little ones for the
             moment quite forgotten, they

would cover the walls of the shelter
             with what
to most of us was Greek but was
             no doubt of urgent consequence

for quantum fields. So filled with joy:
             their permanent markers on the  
brick. And then
             the bus, and then the children off

without us and our little human pretext
             gone. Fragile the minutes.
Fragile the line between wonder
             and woe. The poet when he

wrote about our parents in the garden
             gave them love and rest
and mindfulness. But first
             he gave them honest work.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2011
 Linda  Gregerson


Linda Gregerson is the author of several collections of poetry and literary criticism. A Renaissance scholar, a classically trained actor, and a devotee of the sciences, Gregerson produces lyrical poems informed by her expansive reading that are inquisitive, unflinching, and tender. Tracing the connections she finds between science and poetry, Gregerson says, “I think there are rhythms of thought, fragile propositions about the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Parenthood, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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