POET'S CHOICE

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, July 15, 2007

One pleasure of art comes from how accurately it can convey ambivalence. In a poem, form can have things both ways at once, emotionally: understated and bold, dark and bright, somber and funny, painful and cool, angry and sympathetic. Here is "Oil & Steel" from Henri Cole's new book:

My father lived in a dirty-dish mausoleum,

watching a portable black-and-white television,

reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica,

which he preferred to Modern Fiction.

One by one, his schnauzers died of liver disease,

except the one that guarded his corpse

found holding a tumbler of Bushmills.

"Dead is dead," he would say, an anti-preacher.

I took a plaid shirt from the bedroom closet

and some motor oil -- my inheritance.

Once, I saw him weep in a courtroom --


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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