What does it mean to be civilized? Are there circumstances in which it is not possible? These are some of the central questions that are implicit in this week’s poem, which is by Lee Sharkey, who lives in Portland. Her most recent book, “Walking Backwards,” was published by Tupelo Press.

The world in this prose poem is “blasted” in every possible way, and yet an odd kind of even perseverance remains. We don’t know exactly who’s speaking, or to whom. But this speaker is convincing. Even in the face of having lost it all, there is still humanity.

Civilization

By Lee Sharkey

Even in the most inhospitable circumstances there is always time for a cup of tea. Say you live in a cup with a hole blasted in its side in a blasted landscape, by a blasted tree and an empty barrel. You can still park your worn down shoes side by side at the door and steep your questions in hot water. Since you are a man of letters I imagine you have many. As steam brushes your cheeks you may read the leaves. Take your time. The wind is aroused and the clouds are either massing or clearing. You have lost everything but not what makes you human. I don’t mean your coat and tie.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2014 Lee Sharkey. It appeared originally in the Four Way Review, Fall 2014, and appears here by permission of the author.

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