So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the ‘burning marl.’ Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! – Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

When my best friend (foolishly, I still make that distinction)
And I sit on an ordinary bench in a little Paris park
Unfrequented by tourists, talking softly while watching English sparrows hop
About the shoes of our outstretched legs – his short, mine long —
And remark how these companionable birds are precisely the same
As those we have so much enjoyed in America, that is not hell.

And when a new young person and I are getting to know each other
And I ask whether he reads poetry and he replies, “A little”
And I inquire whether he can recall the name of any particular poem or poet
And he, his handsome dark brown face quickly lighting up,
Exclaims, “A. E.! His first name is A. E.!”
And, momentarily confused, I ask “A. R. Ammons?”
At which he shakes his head from side to side,
And then I hesitatingly inquire, “Housman? You don’t mean A. E. Housman?”
And he broadly grins: “A Shropshire Lad is the book of his I have,”
That is not hell, it is a kind of Heaven.

Come now, tell us
About some of the times
With other people
You also felt it so.

Jonathan Bracker ‘s poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry Northwest, The RavensPerch, Writer’s Digest, among others. Bracker is editor of Bright Cages: The Selected Poems of Christopher Morley (University of Pennsylvania Press), co-author with Mark Wallach of Christopher Morley (Twayne Press), and editor of A Little Patch Of Shepherd’s-Thyme: Prose Passages Of Thomas Hardy Arranged As Verse (Moving Finger Press).