‘A Man May Change’ a poem by Marvin Bell

Every four years we discover Iowa through the lens of the presidential primary. This week’s Friday Poem comes from Iowa’s first poet laureate, Marvin Bell. He was on the faculty of the University of Iowa until 2005 and toured with the garage band of authors, ‘The Rock Bottom Remainders’.

In a world of work where change is a constant, we may miss the slow erosion of self@work. “…it sometimes happens that a man has changed so slowly that he slips away before anyone notices and lives and dies before anyone can find out.”

A Man May Change

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

Marvin Bell  Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000

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