Ode on Giving, War, and the Lighthouse at Alexandria

"Why Lie, I Need a Cold Beer" says the sign of the guy
on the corner of Lafayette and Magnolia, so I
give him a five because it's ninety-four degrees,
100 percent humidity, and when he sees
the bill he puts a sunburned hand on his heart. "Wanna
get married?" I say no, but while driving through the sauna
of that North Florida afternoon I realize
it's the only actual marriage proposal I've
ever gotten, which means more to me than the hard cash
in the pocket of my jeans, the ones and fives I stash
to give the panhandlers who are lined up at the exit
of the supermarket parking lot, a short gauntlet
of men and women, who've seen harder times than I've glimpsed,
outside a novel by Dickens or Zola, and since
they're always polite, thanking me, I thank them right back
for the opportunity to give, because this dark
world is filled with billboards advertising strip joints, gyms,
funeral parlors, huckster televangelists with hymn
books and Bibles, and though the Greeks called it agape
as opposed to eros, the closest English word may
be charity, what Buddhists call dana, one of six
perfections, a kind of antidote to our slick
world of want, or so it seems tonight in London where
I'm walking home from the theater, the drone of war
in the air, and I'm tipsy from a stop at the pub,
Twelfth Night swirling in my head like a Renaissance mob
storming Newgate or Tyburn, and a young man says, "God
bless you, madam" when I hand him a pound coin. Oh, God,
I think, I'm not sure what God is, but I know I can
feel a current running through the world, amid the din,
the grimy streets, headlines of war, under stars shining
like the flame atop the Lighthouse at Pharos, leading
ships from the dark and bottomless sea to the harbor
at Alexandria with its library before
burned by invaders, flames eating rolls of papyrus–
Sophocles' plays, the ripe, bitter poems of Catullus,
all those kisses, Lesbia's little bird–as they became
again the thoughts they were when only a raging dream.

–Barbara Hamby


Barbara Hamby teaches in the creative writing program at Florida State University in Tallahassee and studies with Julia DeHoff at the Namaste Yoga Center. Her latest book, All-Night Lingo Tango, was published in February 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. During the spring 2009 semester, she was a visiting professor at the University of Houston and studied with Constance Braden at the Houston Iyengar Yoga Studio.