Pajama Quotient

Coinage of the not-yet-wholly-
hardened custodians of public
health, as health is roughly measured
in the rougher parts of Dearborn.

Meaning, how many parents,
when things get bad, are wearing
what they've slept in when they come
to pick up the kids at school.

The best of talk, said someone
once, is shop talk: we can go
to it as to a well. But manifolds
and steering racks are going

the way of the wells—offshore—
so the-nifty-thing-you-do-
with-the-wrench-when-the-foreman-
has-sped-the-line-up

has become a ghastly shorthand for
despair among the people
you are paid to help. Despair,
sometimes, of helping. In

the winter dawn a decade and a half
ago, we'd gather around
the school bus stop—the unshaved
fathers, mothers, dogs,

the siblings in their snowsuits—so
the children bound for
Johnson Elementary might have
a proper sending-off.

The privileged of the earth, in our
case: words and stars
and molecules were all our care,
a makeshift village blessed

with time and purpose. And
a school bus stop,
to make it seem like life. By far my
favorites were the Russian

mathematicians: bathrobes hanging
below their parkas, cigarettes
scattering ash, their little ones for the
moment quite forgotten, they

would cover the walls of the shelter
with what
to most of us was Greek but was
no doubt of urgent consequence

for quantum fields. So filled with joy:
their permanent markers on the
brick. And then
the bus, and then the children off

without us and our little human pretext
gone. Fragile the minutes.
Fragile the line between wonder
and woe. The poet when he

wrote about our parents in the garden
gave them love and rest
and mindfulness. But first
he gave them honest work.

by Linda Gregerson

Other poems of GREGERSON (42)

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