The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


David Kirby

Loveless Young Couples


            I see you in restaurants, picking at your food, already
disgusted with each other even though you’re just out
           of college or still in. Is that because you’re business majors?
You look like business majors. A Ford Foundation
           report calls business the default major, saying too many

           students select it as a path to a job, not out of curiosity.
You should be curious, young people. Certainly you should
           be curious about each other! Yet look at you, playing with
your food. Tristan and Isolde were curious about each other,
           as were Lancelot and Guinevere, Héloçse and Abélard,

           Paolo and Francesca . . . the list goes on and on. Sure,
all these stories all end horribly, but why do we still
           read and teach them and make movies and operas about them
hundreds of years later? Because they tell us everything
           we need to know about love, that’s why. In their book

           Academically Adrift, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa
Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains
           during the first two years of college on a national test
of writing and reasoning skills. You young people
           are focusing on the bottom line! Just as you’re going to college

           to get a job, so you’re choosing a helpmeet who appears
to be above average genetically and won’t embarrass you
            at the corporate awards dinner because he or she seems
to know the difference between an escargot and a booger.
           But when you love somebody, you don’t think that way.

           When you love somebody, you want to yank up their shirt,
pull down their pants, bury your face in their flesh.
           When business students take the GMAT, they score lower
than students in every other major. You think the great lovers
           of legend took the GMAT? Hell, no! They were too busy

           trying to figure out how to fool the brother/uncle/father/king
who was trying to keep them from meeting
           in the garden/alcove/portico/broom closet. Take the Châtelaine
of Vergy, who loves an unnamed knight in the service
           of the Duke of Burgundy but insists he keep their love

           secret, though when the Duchess of Burgundy makes a play
for the knight and he spurns her, she flies into a rage and tells
           the Duke that the knight tried to seduce her, leading the Duke
to accuse the knight of treachery and the knight to say where
           his heart truly lies, thus breaking his promise to the Châtelaine,

           who dies in despair, and when the knight finds her body,
he kills himself, and when the Duke finds both bodies,
           he kills the Duchess and becomes a Knight Templar.
There, another horrible end. But what passion while
           it lasts, what kisses, what sighs as the lovers fall asleep

           in each other’s arms. If you loveless young couples
spent more time trying to make sense out of stories like this one,
           you’d score higher on the GMAT. Take more humanities courses,
business majors. And you businessmen and -women—
           unite! Let poets address your gatherings! You worship

           Moloch, the god to whom the Canaanites sacrificed
their firstborn and Ginsberg chanted, “Moloch! Moloch!
           Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries!
blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations!
           invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!”

           Go on, break your backs lifting Moloch to heaven,
if you must, but let the poets in as well. “Unscrew
           the locks from the doors!” said Whitman, and the doors
themselves from the jambs. Industry leaders, I call on you
           to promote American business, also monkey business.

David Kirby

Big Fat Hog


                       That’s what my late mother-in-law called anyone
who was overweight or was eating too much:
                      “That woman’s going be a big fat hog if she keeps

                       stuffing those pancakes in her face,” she’d say,
or “Look at that man drinking that milkshake—
                       big fat hog!” Sometimes I thought they could hear her,

                       though no one ever said anything, possibly because
they agreed: I’m a hog, they’d say to themselves,
                       a big one, and fat as well. And maybe they liked that,

                       liked their size, their place in the world. Or perhaps,
like me, they admired my mother-in-law’s
                       conviction, her certainty she was never wrong,

                       She was like the dial tone; she never wavered,
my mother-in-law. This summer, when I told
                       a cab driver in Florence we were going to Rome,

                       he said, “Sono imbecili, i romani.” How did
he know the Romans were imbeciles? Probably
                       his mother-in-law told him. To my mother-in-law,

                       the only thing worse than “a showoff” was
“a smart aleck”. And almost all of us are,
                       meaning each of us thinks we know more

                       than some old lady does. We don’t. They do.
Edvard Munch said, “When I paint a person,
                       his enemies always find the portrait a good likeness,”

                       and every old lady I’ve ever known could say
the same. I learned more about human nature from
                       my mother-in-law than I did from all those psychology

                       classes I took. I can never make a cup of coffee
without hearing Barbara's mother asking, “Do you
                       like the kind of coffee Barbara likes or normal coffee?”




DAVID KIRBY's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please. See also



Continue Reading >