In days of plenty, when they pass the plate,
assorted fives and twenties fall, and these
can help, but donors shoulder little weight
of suffering from hunger or disease.
In seasons when the world is steeped in woes
and inequality exacts its due
with repetitious cataclysmic blows,
the needs of many overwhelm the few.
But that’s when public spirit kicks in gear
among the open-hearted; those who spring
into the void, rejecting the veneer
of halo’s glow — true colors taking wing.
Compassion is the radiating face
of membership within the human race.
Mary Boren, 2017
This was my part of a collaboration with my friend Bill Keller, in which we were challenged to take opposing sides of an issue but write as one voice. We decided on altruism, and he graciously took the con side with a reverse Shakespearean sonnet in response. Our joint effort, entitled “Give and Take”, won second place in the contest.
View discussion on this poem.
Maybe if I had a billion dollars
I could oversee a massive mission,
blitzing through the backwoods, hills, and hollers,
rounding up the poor folks. Good nutrition,
clothing, shelter, basic education,
birth control and medical attention
ought to be enough to bring a nation
out of moral downslide, not to mention
perk up productivity. However,
what if there was no such thing as money?
How would altruism flourish? Never
underestimate two hands. It’s funny
seeing focus shifting when the labor
asked of me is simply love my neighbor.
Mary Boren, 2005
The annals of significance are filled
with those who like to think they walk the walk
of greatness; minds intelligent and skilled
discovering a better way to build
a world where altruism is instilled,
but few compare to Doctor Jonas Salk.
Before the halls of medicine became
a greed-infested maze, he dealt a blow
against a viral epidemic’s aim
on countless children’s lives, and in the same
unselfish act, renounced commercial claim
on steps to rid the world of polio.
He could have been a multi-billionaire
exerting his proprietary right
to patent the vaccine, denying care
to millions who could ill afford to bear
the cost. He chose, instead, to share
his brilliance like a candle in the night.
Mary Boren, 2014
As one of the schoolchildren who benefited from the first wave of vaccinations in 1955, I am immeasurably indebted to this gifted healer and humanitarian.