Measured Extravagance

2000-12-07 - 11:15 a.m.

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks passed away from cancer earlier this week. Her poem "One wants a Teller in a time like this" is one of the reasons I continue writing poetry today: having read it in my freshman English textbook, I copied it out a couple of times for classmates for whom I thought it might be of interest. I know that one sneered and threw it away - but I also know that one day some months later, chatting in the hallway outside of the bandroom, my friend Bobby pulled a worn scrap of looseleaf from his wallet and said, "Do you remember giving me this? I can't tell you how much it has helped me...."

One wants a Teller in a time like this.

One's not a man, one's not a woman grown.
To bear enormous business all alone.

One cannot walk this winding street with pride,
Straight-shouldered, tranquil-eyed,
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.

One is not certain if or why or how.
One wants a Teller now:--

Put on your rubbers and you won't catch cold.
Here's hell, there's heaven. Go to Sunday school.
Be patient, time brings all good things
--(and cool
Strong balm to calm the buning at the brain?
Love's true, and triumphs, and God's actual.

--Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems

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