Sitting behind Ben-Hur
The drumbeat sets the oar-stroke, cruelly;
But then we do not choose our heartbeat.
Manacles confine us. Who, however,
Can be really said to venture?
If in the battle it is row or drown,
We row. The lash is often on us.
It is an incentive, in its way.
The rowing builds up shoulder muscles.
I've a tan. I look at backs a lot.
I deeply understand teamwork.
I live in filth. Was I fastidious
When I was free? Here sharks will have us;
It's not as though elsewhere there are not
Bear up. Hand and heart grow calloused.
The Destructive Element: New and Selected
Poems, Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, ©
Reprinted by permission of the author.