Creole

By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky
I’m tired of the gods, I’m pious about the ancestors: afloat
In the wake widening behind me in time, the restive devisers.

My father had one job from high school till he got fired at thirty.
The year was 1947 and his boss, planning to run for mayor,

Wanted to hire an Italian veteran, he explained, putting it
In plain English. I was seven years old, my sister was two.

The barbarian tribes in the woods were so savage the Empire
Had to conquer them to protect and clear its perimeter.

So into the woods Rome sent out missions of civilizing
Governors and invaders to establish schools, courts, garrisons:

Soldiers, clerks, officials, citizens with their household slaves.
Years or decades or entire lives were spent out in the hinterlands—

Which might be good places to retire on a government pension,
Especially if in those work-years you had acquired a native wife.

Often I get these things wrong or at best mixed up but I do
Feel piety toward those persistent mixed families in Gaul,

Britain, Thrace. When I die may I take my place in the wedge
Widening and churning in the mortal ocean of years of souls.

As I get it, the Roman colonizing and mixing, the intricate Imperial
Processes of enslaving and freeing, involved not just the inevitable

Fucking in all senses of the word, but also marriages and births
As developers and barbers, scribes and thugs mingled and coupled

With the native people and peoples. Begetting and trading, they
Needed to swap, blend and improvise languages—couples

Especially needed to invent French, Spanish, German: and I confess—
Roman, barbarian—I find that Creole work more glorious than God.

The way it happened, the school sent around a notice: anybody
Interested in becoming an apprentice optician, raise your hand.

It was the Great Depression, anything about a job sounded good to
Milford Pinsky, who told me he thought it meant a kind of dentistry.

Anyway, he was bored sitting in study hall, so he raised his hand,
And he got the job as was his destiny—full-time, once he graduated.

Joe Schiavone was the veteran who took the job, not a bad guy,
Dr. Vineburg did get elected mayor, Joe worked for him for years.

At the bank an Episcopalian named John Smock, whose family owned
A piece of the bank, had played sports with Milford. He gave him a small

Loan with no collateral, so he opened his own shop, grinding lenses
And selling glasses: as his mother-in-law said, “almost a Professional.”

Optician comes from a Greek word that has to do with seeing.
Banker comes from an Italian word for a bench, where people sat,

I imagine, and made loans or change. Pinsky like “Tex” or “Brooklyn”
Is a name nobody would have if they were still in that same place:

Those names all signify someone who’s been away from home a while.
Schiavone means “a Slav.” Milford is a variant on the names of poets—

Milton, Herbert, Sidney—certain immigrants gave their offspring.
Creole comes from a word meaning to breed or to create, in a place.

Source: Poetry (February 2012).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2012
 Robert  Pinsky

Biography

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

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.