John Koethe has published nine books of poetry, most recently ROTC Kills(HarperCollins, 2012). His previous book,Ninety-Fifth Street (HarperCollins, 2009) received the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American poets, and an earlier book, Falling Water (HarperCollins, 1997) received the Kingsley Tufts Award. He is also the author of books on Wittgenstein and skepticism and a collection of literary essays. He has received Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the first Poet Laureate of Milwaukee and in 2010 was the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry at Princeton University. He is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
A Coupla Yeggs
I always thought yeggs were something like schmucks,
Although they're really safecrackers, though no one knows why.
According to Wikipedia, "schmuck" meant penis in Yiddish,
But because of its vulgarity it got euphemized to "schmoe,"
Which became the basis for the vile Al Capp's schmoos
(The precursors, if you ask me, of smurfs). "A coupla yeggs"—
I probably read it in a Damon Runyon story, who was my favorite
Writer for a while after college, after Proust. "Get the money"
Was Runyon's favorite saying according to Ted Berrigan,
Whom I didn't know very well, but enjoyed seeing now and then.
John Godfrey and I would go into New York, wander around
And appropriate anything we could—a heady time for
Poetry, not just in New York but everywhere, when people
Argued about it and it mattered. There are no secrets anymore,
And everyone likes everything, which is even worse, but back then
Secrets were there for the taking, if you could crack their codes.
What made them so important? Call this poem Exhibit A
And forget "back then": what makes it important is the elation
Of being lost on the way to nowhere, walking with John or Diane or
Anyone through the big city like eternal out-of-towners, dazed
By its promise and hell-bent to crack its secrets, like a coupla yeggs.