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Mark Irwin

mark-irwin-photoMark Irwin is an American poet. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently Large White House Speaking (New Issues Press). His honors and awards include The Nation/Discovery Award, four Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, Colorado and Ohio Art Council Fellowships, two Colorado Book Awards, the James Wright Poetry Award, and fellowships from the Fulbright, Lilly, and Wurlitzer Foundations.

His poems have appeared in a number of literary journals, including The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, New England Review, and The New Republic. He attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Case Western Reserve University, and currently is an associate professor of English at the University of Southern California. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Mark Irwin is the author of six collections of poetry, two volumes of translation, and a recently completed book of essays on contemporary American poetry entitled “Monster.” His most recent book is American Urn: New & Selected Poems (1987–2011). He lives in Colorado. (Poetry Foundation)

I loved this poem for the simple reason I felt the same bloomin’ way about Woolworth’s. Going there was better than an amusement park for me. And getting to sit at the lunch counter and have a steaming cup of hot chocolate with real whipped cream in the winter when we’d just come in from outside was heavenly! And pencils, pens, and paper! That’s where I always headed first! Did any of you guys love going to Woolworth’s?



(for Gerald Stern)

Everything stands wondrously multicolored
and at attention in the always Christmas air.
What scent lingers unrecognizably
between that of popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches,

malted milkballs, and parakeets? Maybe you came here
in winter to buy your daughter a hamster
and were detained by the bin

of Multicolored Thongs, four pair
for a dollar. Maybe you came here to buy
some envelopes, the light blue par avion ones

with airplanes, but caught yourself, lost,
daydreaming, saying it’s too late over the glassy
diorama of cakes and pies. Maybe you came here

to buy a lampshade, the fake crimped
kind, and suddenly you remember
your grandmother, dead

twenty years, floating through the old
house like a curtain. Maybe you’re retired,
on Social Security, and came here for the Roast

Turkey Dinner, or the Liver and Onions,
or just to stare into a black circle
of coffee and to get warm. Or maybe

the big church down the street is closed
now during the day, and you’re homeless and poor,
or you’re rich, or it doesn’t matter what you are

with a little loose change jangling in your pocket,
begging to be spent, because you wandered in
and somewhere between the bin of animal crackers

and the little zoo in the back of the store
you lost something, and because you came here
not to forget, but to remember to live.


Picture Credit: www.poetryfoundation.org