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POET'S CHOICE

By Poet's Choice
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Deborah Garrison has mastered the ordinary -- a difficult, even treacherous terrain for any writer. It takes agility and imagination to write well about the ordinary without condescension or apology, easy jokes or inflation. Garrison's first book, A Working Girl Can't Win (1998), won readers by approaching the material indicated by its title with directness, modesty and unshowy wit. Those qualities also mark her new collection, The Second Child. This time the material includes parenthood and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with their aftermath.

Into the Lincoln Tunnel

The bus rolled into the Lincoln Tunnel,

and I was whispering a prayer

that it not be today, not today, please

no shenanigans, no blasts, no terrors,

just please the rocking, slightly nauseating

gray ride, stop and start, chug-a

in the dim fellowship of smaller cars,

bumper lights flickering hello and warning.

Yes, please smile upon these good

people who want to enter the city and work.

Because work is good, actually, and life is good,

despite everything, and I don't mean to sound

spoiled, but please don't think I don't know

how grateful I should be

for what I do have--

I wonder whom I'm praying to.

Maybe Honest Abe himself,

craggy and splendid in his tall chair,

better than God to a kid;

Lincoln whose birthday I shared,

in whom I took secret pride: born, thus I was,

to be truthful, and love freedom.

Now with a silent collective sigh

steaming out into the broken winter sun,

up the ramp to greet buildings, blue brick

and brown stone and steel, candy-corn pylons

and curving guardrails massively bolted and men

in hard hats leaning on resting machines

with paper cups of coffee--

a cup of coffee, a modest thing to ask

Abe for,

dark, bitter, fresh

as an ordinary morning.

"Ordinary" is an interesting word. Related to "order," it can pertain to the official authority of judges and bishops, as well as the familiar meaning "unremarkable." In calling attention to the unheroic, and to the distance between herself and Lincoln, Garrison keeps her blessed and quotidian balance, in a remarkable way.

(Deborah Garrison's poem "Into the Lincoln Tunnel"

is from her book "The Second Child." Random House.

Copyright 2007 by Deborah Garrison.)

Robert Pinsky is the author of "The Inferno of Dante,"

a verse translation.

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