Be All That You Can Be by David Kirby

I pick up pieces of paper I find on the sidewalk because

you never know what you’ll find, and the other day,

after I find this note in which the writer expresses sorrow

for her sins and vows to sin no more, I show it

to Barbara and ask if she ever felt that way, and she says,

Sure. A few minutes later, she laughs and says,

Not in a while, though. Barbara’s thinking like

a poet, which she is anyway, but that’s not the point.

The point is that (a) everybody should think like

a poet even if they do something else entirely,


and (b) you can be a poet without ever writing a single

poem.  Just use your imagination. For example, it’d be

fun to be a saint, don’t you think? Which one, though.

Not a martyr, certainly—anything but a martyr.

Okay, a martyr if you can stand the mutilation.


Think how much fun you’d have giving the pagans fits!

It’d probably be more fun to be a saint than to be

a porn star. Oh, sure, you’d get to do it with pretty people

and maybe even make a lot of money, but you’d be doing

it on a schedule, as in, Whoops, it’s 9:45, better finish


my coffee and start doing it. Actually, a lot of saints

were porn stars before they switched over, which

sounds kind of selfish, because that way, they had all the sex

anybody could possibly want and then, once

the sex had become routine and just turned into a job,


they quit and become all holy and were looked up to

in the community, whereas nobody really remembers

a person who was merely sexy unless he or she did something

famous, like Salome. Take Mary Magdalene.

We don’t talk about her because she was a hot number


but because she was the best friend of Jesus, not an easy

guy to know: great leader, redeemer of mankind according

to a couple of billion followers, but not exactly warm

and fuzzy. We also remember Mary because top

Renaissance artists painted or sculpted her, notably


Donatello. The Gnostic Gospels tell us that, after Christ dies,

Mary Magdalene sees him in a vision and says, Lord,

I saw you today in a vision. That doesn’t make sense,

but it doesn’t bother Jesus, so why should it bother us?

He says to Mary, Blessed are you that you did not waver


at the sight of Me. Too true! Here you are thinking

the man you loved most on this earth is dead,

and the next thing you know, there he is walking down

the street, big as life. Jesus also says to Mary,

Where the mind is, there is the treasure, which is,


if not enough to make me become a Christian

and go to church and Sunday school and run

the concession stand at ball games and chaperone trips

to place I don’t want to and give up candy for Lent

when that’s the one time of year I want candy the most,


is yet sufficient to make me think that Jesus was

one smart cookie, for his is the type of mind that

selects the things that are most important and shows us how

to think about them in new ways, logic be damned.

My friend Misha went to Catholic school in India,


and she tells me that whenever she wanted something,

the nuns would tell her to say three Hail Marys.

For example, when she was watching Baywatch

and the electricity would go out, the nuns would tell her

to say three Hail Marys, and she would, and the electricity


would come back on, and there Misha would be, eating

her excellent Indian snacks and watching the beautiful

Californians as they jumped in and out of the water, fell

in and out of love. Saints, martyrs, prostitutes,

lifeguards— hallelujah! Poets all of us, every one.


David Kirby’s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.