The Afternoon of Man

Fourteen or so, one autumn afternoon,
my homework done and supper hours away,
I scuffed along on sodden paths bestrewn
with yellowed leaves in woods where I’d once played.
Perhaps it was the setting sun that grayed
the air, perhaps a sudden chill just then,
but something in my soul began to weigh
the thought I’d never be a boy again.
And now as I move through the world of men,
live by my wits and somewhat by my strength,
there nonetheless still comes the time at length,
late afternoon inside my office when
I of a sudden catch the subtle musk:
the sour smell of oak leaves in the dusk.


Like Wordsworth’s Humble Nun

Like Wordsworth’s humble nun I do not fret
the cloister of the sonnet’s metric walls.
Its iambs neither stifle nor forestall
the pleasure said that freer lines beget.
And rhyme? Although at times its quaint duet
perforce my native music overhauls,
its subtle grace provides the wherewithal
a world bereft of measure to offset.
Yet prayer I raise within this rhythmic cell
is less to saints and angels bright than to
Calliope and all her pagan crew
whose classic sense of beauty and the spell
that’s cast by balance was the sentinel
of human spirit with the gods imbued.


This Sonnet Has Been Funded by the State

This sonnet has been funded by the State
despite the fact it has no axe to grind.
I really looked for something I could hate,
but MSNBC’s all I could find.
Upfront I ought to mention that I’m white,
and worse: a man, but in defense I’d say
I’m fairly nice and terribly polite
and told the arts committee I was gay.
The chair (a gender quite beyond all guess)
unsubtly suggested my work show
how rhyme supports the fascist status quo.
And though no whore for money, I confess
that if with State approval I am crowned,
I may become the liberals’ Ezra Pound.


Jeffrey Essmann’s prose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and numerous magazines and literary journals, his poetry in America Magazine and Dappled Things. He lives in New York City.


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7 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    The pleasure of reading a line like “the sour smell of oak leaves in the dusk” renews my belief that a fugitive beauty still exists among the insanity of process art and ragged unrhymed lines so unlike yours.

    And though your “state-funded:” sonnet leaves me confused, isn’t that what inevitably occurs when arts and government collide?

  2. James Sale

    Brilliant, brilliant poetry – so accomplished, so assured, so fine in its handling of form and meter. I am currently rushing to do something else, but I have to say that Jeffrey Essman is an important poet and welcome more of his work on these pages. Stuff what the art committees say!

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Yes, nice stuff, Jeffrey. You use your cleverness to intertwine sound form with strong ideas and nearly perfect execution. I say “nearly” only because it is always possible to nitpick about a syllable or two. These are the kind of poems I like to read: substantial, focused and polished.

  4. dave whippman

    “This Sonnet Has Been Funded by the State” is a really entertaining satire. Some classic lines – politically incorrect, but what a refreshing change that is!


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