Today, an homage to a great American lyricist. The poem falls in the “Curves” section of Brad Leithauser’s latest collection, whose fascinating organizing principle (and title) is Curves and Angles—the curves being the curves of the body, the fluid shapes of human concerns; the angles, the cooler, less flexible lines of the inanimate world.
A Good List
(Homage to Lorenz Hart)
Some nights, can’t sleep, I draw up a list,
Of everything I’ve never done wrong.
To look at me now, you might insist
My list could hardly be long,
But I’ve stolen no gnomes from my neighbor’s yard,
Nor struck his dog, backing out my car.
Never ate my way up and down the Loire
On a stranger’s credit card.
I’ve never given a cop the slip,
Stuffed stiffs in a gravel quarry,
Or silenced Cub Scouts on a first camping trip
With an unspeakable ghost story.
Never lifted a vase from a museum foyer,
Or rifled a Turkish tourist’s backpack.
Never cheated at golf. Or slipped out a blackjack
And flattened a patent lawyer.
I never forged a lottery ticket,
Took three on a two-for-one pass,
Or, as a child, toasted a cricket
With a magnifying glass.
I never said “air” to mean “err,” or obstructed
Justice, or defrauded a securities firm.
Never mulcted—so far as I understand the term.
Or unjustly usufructed.
I never swindled a widow of all her stuff
By means of a false deed and title
Or stood up and shouted, My God, that’s enough!
At a nephew’s piano recital.
Never practiced arson, even as a prank,
Brightened church-suppers with off-color jokes,
Concocted an archeological hoax—
Or dumped bleach in a goldfish tank.
Never smoked opium. Or smuggled gold
Across the Panamanian Isthmus.
Never hauled back and knocked a rival out cold,
Or missed a family Christmas.
Never borrowed a book I intended to keep.
. . . My list, once started, continues to grow,
Which is all for the good, but just goes to show
It’s the good who do not sleep.
Read more poems from Curves and Angles.