Another great poem…

It is, after all, National Poetry Month. This one I love because it takes something I have a hard time thinking of as poetic (statistics) and weaves a lovely, meaningful poem from and with it. Also, this poem is written by a man I was privileged to study with at Iowa State University, Dr. Neal Bowers. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t publish much anymore and that’s our loss because he is one of those poets who makes you think differently about everyday things. He was also a great teacher.

Results of the Questionnaire
by Neal Bowers
Published in Poetry, March 1996

Because most respondents spent most of their time
repeating whatever mantra helps them cope,
most said YES they were satisfied,
though the instrument itself did not allow
elaboration to distinguish between, say,
a soaking gladness or an intermittent
spritz that tantalizes more than it pleases,
nor can we say how much or little
of anything it takes to lift or crash the heart
of any individual, the wind
and every other variable being unpredictable
and somewhat relative, permitting
only a snapshot measurement–
the population posed momentarily and smiling
before dispersing to separate fates.

Off on the edges are others,
statistically predictable in their gloom,
a few of whom bore down so hard
when marking NO they tore the paper,
and we had to hand-score those,
though it was easy enough to read
the braille of their blinded lives,
to hear from the hole they made an emptiness;
and one or two percent
marked NO OPINION, as though remote
from their own minds, but we know
they are timid who choose
the nearest thing to not responding
but still respond because they think they should,
which is why we always provide this category,
like putting out a certain seed to lure
the shyest bird for counting.

The fraction who did not respond at all
cannot be said to have no opinion,
though we can never say with certainty
what their silence means, if anything.
Logic dictates they must fit somewhere,
but their self-removal perhaps implies
we haven’t offered enough options
and are therefore indirectly measuring
our own failing, which we score
as their inconsequential absence.


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