by Mark Strand
1 If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles.
2 If a man lives with a poem,
he shall die lonely.
3 If a man lives with two poems,
he shall be unfaithful to one.
4 If a man conceives of a poem,
he shall have one less child.
5 If a man conceives of two poems,
he shall have two children less.
6 If a man wears a crown on his head as he writes,
he shall be found out.
7 If a man wears no crown on his head as he writes,
he shall deceive no one but himself.
8 If a man gets angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by men.
9 If a man continues to be angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by women.
10 If a man publicly denounces poetry,
his shoes will fill with urine.
11 If a man gives up poetry for power,
he shall have lots of power.
12 If a man brags about his poems,
he shall be loved by fools.
13 If a man brags about his poems and loves fools,
he shall write no more.
14 If a man craves attention because of his poems,
he shall be like a jackass in moonlight.
15 If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow,
he shall have a beautiful mistress.
16 If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow overly,
he shall drive his mistress away.
17 If a man claims the poem of another,
his heart shall double in size.
18 If a man lets his poems go naked,
he shall fear death.
19 If a man fears death,
he shall be saved by his poems.
20 If a man does not fear death,
he may or may not be saved by his poems.
21 If a man finishes a poem,
he shall bathe in the blank wake of his passion
and be kissed by white paper.
First published in Harper’s magazine in January 1970, and also in Darker Poems (Atheneum 1970).