Ives and Stevens never met,
though both lived in Connecticut
and sold insurance.
Burly men of Harvard and Yale,
postcards not letters, one wife regardless.
Not against any war,
hardly left the Yankee shore.
Perhaps they found in actuarial tables
alibis for the grisly accidents of their century;
or a trade gave dissonance to their aesthetic;
or they wanted bigger houses.
How but in league with surety
could the modern mind calm itself enough
to symphonize Thanksgiving,
lionize a jar in Tennessee,
toss fabliaux like dice across the page,
craft hyms for theremin and tremolando.
Queasy about the vernacular,
you wouldn’t find these natty Babbitts
near the union hall, rather at lunch
in leather booths snapping toothpicks;
or swirling frost from high windows
with the meat edges of their palms;
or flooring Hudsons to chase a mailman
down Main Street in his snow boots.
Yet who would asperse the spirits
moving those arcane phrasings,
those exasperating polytones
melted in a single crock,
mold meticulously formed then smashed
in accurate, dominant blows,
the American voice saying in one key,
singing in another,
that we haven’t lost much yet
but nonetheless have something to say,
and this is our time to say it,
and we're insured.