Civil Service
By Gary Duehr

This is the winter of dissing content,
Of people trying to figure out what everything’s meant.
In Boston, the streets are slush.
A couple feet so far, another on its way tonight. Too much?
Fences lean, a tree limb bends
Toward power lines. A neighbor digs out the snowy sculpture
Of his car. What does the future
Hold for us? A heaviness? And how to make amends?
What to say to civil servants, who hear
Horror-movie music—
A thumping bass, the strings’ bright shriek—
Before the startle-scare, the jump from nowhere. It’s clear
The sense of dread is visceral.
No one knows what’s next. It’s so unreal.
Should they sound the alarm and tweet
Through rogue accounts, like @AngryWH Staffer,
Or should they retreat
To corner bars to plot a lunchtime protest, after
Polishing their resumes? When you’re punched in the gut
Too many times
Is it possible to close your eyes to alleged crimes
And just do your job? Anything but.
Once in a lifetime, you must choose a side.
Civilization demands it.
More crackdowns on mothers of two who’ve tried
To do their best? More degrading orders? Who can stand it?
Choose! Choose! Feelings are raw
Just three weeks in, I know. Outside, a light snow screens
The apple tree in front. Here, it all seems
Normal, an ordinary afternoon. You pick up a book to read. Ah.

Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).