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For Laurel and Hardy on My Workroom Wall

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They’re tipping their battered derbies and striding forward
In step for a change, chipper, self-assured,
Their cardboard suitcases labeled
Guest of Steerage. They’ve just arrived at the boot camp
Of the good old French Foreign Legion
Which they’ve chosen as their slice of life
Instead of drowning themselves. Once again
They’re about to become their own mothers and fathers
And their own unknowable children
Who will rehearse sad laughter and mock tears,
Will frown with completely unsuccessful
Concentration, and will practice the amazement
Of suddenly understanding everything
That baffles them and will go on baffling them
While they pretend they’re only one reel away
From belonging in the world. Their arrival
Will mark a new beginning of meaningless
Hostilities with a slaphappy ending. In a moment,
They’ll hear music, and as if they’d known all along
This was what they’d come for, they’ll put down
The mops and buckets given them as charms
With which to cleanse the Sahara and move their feet
With a calm, sure, delicate disregard
For all close-order drill and begin dancing.



Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

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For Laurel and Hardy on My Workroom Wall

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