Thursday, February 27, 2014

Found Poem - Howard Nemerov

after information received in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 v 86

The population center of the USA
Has shifted to Potosi, in Missouri.

The calculation employed by authorities
In arriving at this dislocation assumes

Te the country is a geometric plane,
Perfectly flat, and that every citizen,

Including those in Alaska and Hawaii
And the District of Columbia, weighs the same;

So that, given these simple presuppositions,
The entire bulk and spread of the people

Should theoretically balance on the point
Of a needle under Potosi in Missouri

Where no one is residing nowadays
But the watchman over an abandoned mine

Whence the company got the lead out and left.
"It gets pretty lonely here," he says, "at night."

My favorite poems are often ones wrapped in a dry humor with some sort of salient, sentimental point.  This one fits that model perfectly.  It makes the metric of population center sound absolutely ridiculous by explaining it in simple terms.  By outlining the nation as a perfectly flat plane where every single person weighs the same, and then calling those "simple presuppositions" we are invited to laugh at the silliness of the way we calculate things like population center as if they have any relevance or meaning.  Then the poem segues humorously to the topic of loneliness, when we learn that no one, in fact, bar one man lives in Potosi.  With humility and honesty, we're told that the population center of the USA "gets pretty night."

It's a disarming line, and to me, it brings to mind the sensation of being alone in a crowd.  I know that when I'm among huge crowds of people, generally huge crowds of strangers, I suddenly feel even more alone than I do when I'm by myself in my small house in the middle of a small town.  I know when I spent a day or so by myself in Seoul, despite being surrounded by millions of people within a few square miles, I felt very alone.  Now, the loneliness of the man in the poem is a different sort, but the idea of the center being a lonely place is something that I think applies to more situations that literally being alone.

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