To Stop the World from Ending

Frederick Seidel

A man sits counting the floor tiles of the bathroom floor,
Counts silently left to right, then right to left, while pressure mounts,
And while, in urgently increasing amounts,
His sphincter speaks up like a kazoo and starts to snore.

Six miles later, working at his desk, the man
Nears Antarctica and the palm-tree beach,
And reaches for a hand to hold, a harbour he can’t reach.
The man can’t stand lying in the sun to get a tan.

The man can’t stand being stretched out on the sand
Trying to turn brown and be attractive.
Because he’s otherwise so white and so inactive.
He’s otherwise a man of midnight and very grand.

How many times a year does a man have to shave?
How many times a lifetime? It’s distressing
To think of all the pressing a pants-crease and undressing
Required to make you look like you know how to behave.

Not only does Baudelaire behave, but, in his chalk-stripe suit, carpeted stairs
Look up at him like looking at a god or royalty.
His rent-stabilised apartment feels a kind of loyalty
To his delusions, and anyway who really cares?

When tooth no. 13 in the upper left quadrant continued to ache,
He wrote a poem saying teeth are not a piece of cake.
He asked his dentist had the two of them made a mistake
Extracting no. 14? How many teeth do a poem make?

Movies and Ducatis and politics and girls
Are the tactics, while counting the tiles, Baudelaire employs.
Back at his desk, he devises toys
Whose bowel movements are a string of pearls.

Lyndon Johnson, unhinged by the unwinnable war in Vietnam, would drag
His Secretary of Defense right into the bathroom with him.
The Commander in Chief sat on the toilet, shitting and shouting, and it was grim,
Which made Robert McNamara make things up and gag.

Airlines, doctors, concerts, restaurants – and politics and girls –
Are balmy tropical topics which, while counting the tiles, a traveller enjoys.
The King’s College Chapel Choir, emitting ethereal noise,
Festoons faeces with strands of pearls.

Pigs in shit, in their benevolent electric cars, don’t
Stop the world from ending – something only you can do,
Poet of the underneath who
Elevates the reader to the depths, which reversing global warming won’t.

The art of sanitation is to rhyme the slime.
Do not pasteurise the woman’s sewage. From my bed,
I look up at a sky that might as well be red.
I’m coming in my hand and I’m rhyming I’m.