Susan McLean


God or Mammon

You can’t serve God and Mammon, so they say,
but Mammon is gracious and leaves bigger tips.
God takes the three-for-one deal, and then slips
off stealthily, leaving his son to pay.

Mammon is from old money, you can tell.
He doesn’t eye you like a prostitute
or thief, or thunder if you touch his fruit,
bellowing out that you can go to hell.

Mammon is quite the gentleman: sedate,
refined, welcome wherever he may go.
He pays his bills and never makes a fuss.
Unlike that testy, noisy reprobate,
he stands for status and the status quo.
God is a pain; Mammon is one of us.


No one is more public than a poet.
They get a taste for praise, which can’t be sated.
They’re geniuses. They want the world to know it.

They have a hidden scar. They have to show it.
They serve up stoic postures, nicely plated.
No one is more public than a poet.

Some trauma maimed them in the past, although it
may possibly have been exaggerated
during the years they’ve delved and probed to know it.

Don’t tell them they should struggle to outgrow it
or that their sense of mission is inflated.
No one is more public than a poet.

They’ve suffered into truth, so they bestow it
freely. Their empathy is celebrated.
They don’t just pity misery; they know it.

They’ve toured hell’s deepest circle—and below it.
Their mask of woe is not impersonated.
But no one is more private than a poet,
for nobody is listening. And they know it.

Susan McLean, a retired English professor, is the author of The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife. Her work has appeared in Able Muse, Ecotone, Blue Unicorn, and elsewhere.