The Sunday Poem: Rich Boucher... Please have Pity on these People; They are From the Past

Irony and humor are not the tools of every poet. But here Rich Boucher wears them like six-guns in this look into American history and how it is viewed.

A past member of five national poetry slam teams (Team Worcester, MA 1995 & 1996, Team Washington, DC in 2001, Team Wilmington, DE in 2007 and Team Albuquerque, NM in 2008), Rich has published four chapbooks of poetry and for seven years hosted an open reading and slam in Newark, Delaware. Like sands in the hourglass, Rich's poetry blends neo-brutalist surrealism with pagan music, sacred nonsense, revisionist history and "truth". Ever had a spiritual awakening on a Ferris Wheel? Rich hasn't, either. Page influences: James Tate, Charles Simic, Wallace Stevens. Stage influences: Bill MacMillan, Sean Shea, Lea Deschenes. Some of his recent work can be found here:

Please have Pity on these People; They are From the Past

Simply put, one cannot help oneself,
when one sees these covered wagons,
these desperate people in the Purina, horsey days
of the frontier, with their bonnets and prairie dresses jostling along
the steep ravines, late in history’s sepia afternoons;
how all of them, even the children, had copious, pre-Raphaelite hair,
floodsies and industrial suspenders like Michael Landon;
one cannot help but become sad upon reflection
that these hearty folk had no access to Facebook yet,
their palms had not yet felt the silky-smooth aluminum
of an Ipod across the lifelines in their hands.
Students of history will come to understand the concepts
of an outhouse, and an ax, and will use vocabulary
related to prairie life in the essay.

One cries, one becomes confused when one wonders
what these brave pioneers wore for underwear,
going without boxers or jockeys or “push-up bras”.
One sheds a tear, doubtless, when one realizes
that these innocent, tender people
often had to wear clothing that was not cool;
one verges upon uncontrollable sobbing
to know that these people had no mouthwash,
no Gillette Cool Wave men’s antiperspirant with granules for time-release.
Fur boutiques were especially hard to come by.
On summer nights, the villagers would gather and sing kumbayah,
wearing outfits that would later prompt the emergency formation of the U.N.

Inventors of drinking sassafras
& sarsaparilla soda, in fleece pajamas
they ate their rust flake salads sturdily,
like good, honorable little peons, decent people
even for their despicable lack of Doritos
or Pinã Coladas, Playstations, Botox;
one must bury one’s head in the bosom of a good friend,
and weep, and be all dramatic
to know that eating only hay, and whiskey, and pumpkins
made things like life, farming and downloading music
very tough for these measly, noble creatures.
Just the thought of them shambling about
in the hinterland acreage of the Ingalls
provokes a twinge of empathy and smallpox
for these people of the inferior past.
Even the lowliest of the low among us,
the cretins who wear their pants so low
that what should not be seen in daylight may be seen
are more evolved than these historical bumpkins
covered in manifest dust and gold dubloons,
and in the moment of realizing all this
even I am given pause to wonder if perhaps
I, too, am better than George Washington.

--Rich Boucher

Poetry submissions are most welcome. Email

Views: 67

Comment by Margaret Randall on November 1, 2009 at 8:01am
Interesting poem, Rich. I alternated between "getting it" and a certain sadness. Perhaps I am too old for this sort of reflection. While I think I got the irony, I wanted a deeper exploration of what has been lost from those times to these, the subtle and not so subtle trade-offs when instant communication and New York to Paris in a day replaced the slow hard grind of inhabiting landscape and putting pen to paper. Modernity has given me a lot. As a poet I delight in cut and paste. But every once in a while I want to be still in a place uncontaminated by all we know and use today. When I do, a lot comes clear. Anyway, this poem has given me a lot to think about, and for that I thank you.
Comment by bg on November 1, 2009 at 8:24am
Would we trade all "this" for the hunger for learning, for the struggle of aspiration, and the bastard offspring of greed that has led us here? We lost it and our way somewhere back. Bastards of bastards. And their heirs. When was the moment when our star fell? We did not see it. Some still deny it. Most prefer to sleep it off, as if awaking, it will be a new tomorrow, full of promise.
Comment by cathyray on November 1, 2009 at 8:54am
One has to admit that one dug this poem & that one especially enjoyed the manifest dust. One does love the words.
As a kid I would stare out car windows on those long family vacation treks & imagine walking across the landscape, hot or freezing, in a ratty dress & tiny lace up shoes, not an REI or Sonic or telephone pole in sight. I thought even then that it must have sucked yet in every image I saw of it the women had wonderful long hair & great makeup. God bless Miss Kitty. Can it get better? Are we better?
Comment by Barelas Babe on November 1, 2009 at 9:30am
Rich - I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of these worlds and your word choices. It called to mind the thoughts that I experienced upon touring Monticello - how we play with the concepts of "sophisticated" and "progress" today in a way that almost dismisses notable actions of the past.

One thing I can't seem to figure out is the connection of Purina (obviously I know the connection to the feed mills, but initially this was Ralston and Purina came later, right?) I thought it might be a reference to purines, but I couldn't figure out that connection work either. I know that it isn't always just about the meaning of the words and the sound and other factors come in to play, but I wonder if in this case there's a reference I'm just missing?
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on November 1, 2009 at 3:11pm
best laugh and deep thought of the day, and you did have some competion in my onslaught of inormation/reading/listenig--oh.blather--I adore this poem adore it and I want to buy a signed copy of the chapbook it's in and save it for my grandkids who can then sell it for big bucks when your fame catches fire like the prairie light at sunset not to mention Burque sun too. Hey, son, this 'er poem would warm George Washington's feet after climbing outta the Delaware with no clean socks in sight. You rock. deeply like earthquakes--
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on November 1, 2009 at 3:13pm
ps "Purina" is what made me know that I was going to love the poem--a forelockshadowing
Comment by Rich Boucher on November 2, 2009 at 11:40am

Thank you for your kind words. I had not wanted to delve "too deep"
into the contrast between the way people live now versus the way
people lived then; I wanted the thought of such comparison to be the
basis for the voice of the poem. You got the irony of the poem, I think,
just fine. And I am very humbled at your words.

Thank you.
Comment by Rich Boucher on November 2, 2009 at 11:50am

I feel amazed by these thoughts and questions of yours, that my poem has prompted this. I won’t be so arrogant as to say it was my intention to provoke such questions; I’m not that astute or prescient, but nonetheless I am floored, pleasantly, by your reaction to the poem. I hope you liked it.

Thank you,

Comment by Rich Boucher on November 2, 2009 at 11:56am

Gotta say it: one feels very grateful for your comments! And, yes, “manifest dust” was a phrase I was really happy with in this poem. Every so often I am graced enough to hit upon a turn of phrase that lets me know I’m on the right track. I don’t know if “it” can get better – for that we would need better people, and as an avid news reader I don’t hold out much hope for an improved line of human beings coming off the line any time soon. And as for whether we’re “better” or not, that sure is a toughie!

Thank you,

Comment by Rich Boucher on November 2, 2009 at 12:06pm

You so hit the nail on the head with the “dismissive” voice of the poem; that is precisely what I was going for. The contrast between an Ipod and the Pyramids. Facebook and the Colossus of Rhodes. The Purina is a (not too clear, perhaps) reference to the old “chuck wagon” Purina commercials in the ‘70’s, where the chuck wagon would magically emerge from the bottom kitchen cabinet to travel the kitchen floor all the way to the dog dish, and then head back and disappear again into the kitchen cabinet. I always loved that commercial. I hope this helps.

Thank you,



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