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Pacemaker

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I

"One Snodgrass, two Snodgrass, three Snodgrass, four . . .
       I took my own rollcall when I counted seconds;
"One two three, Two two three, Three . . .," the drum score
       Showed only long rests to the tympani's entrance.

"Oh-oh-oh leff; leff; leff-toh-righ-toh-leff,"
       The sergeant cadenced us footsore recruits;
The heart, poor drummer, gone lame, deaf,
       Then AWOL, gets frogmarched to the noose.

II

Old coots, at the Veterans', might catch breath
       If their cheeks got slapped by a nurse's aide,
Then come back to life; just so, at their birth,
       Young rumps had been tendered warm accolades.

The kick-ass rude attitude, smart-assed insult,
       The acid-fueled book review just might shock
Us back to the brawl like smelling salts,
       Might sting the lulled heart up off its blocks.

III

I thought I'd always favor rubato
       Or syncopation, scorning fixed rhythms;
               Thought my old heartthrobs could stand up to stress;
Believed one's bloodpump should skip a few beats
       If it fell into company with sleek young women;
               Believed my own bruit could beat with the best.

Wrong again, Snodgrass! This new gold gadget,
       Snug as the watch on my wife's warm wrist,
               Drives my pulsetempo near twice its old pace—
Go, nonstop startwatch! Go, clockwork rabbit,
       Keeping this lame old dog synchronized,
               Steady, sparked up, still in the race.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

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Pacemaker

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