Hanging from their necks,
belts, or ties, with photo,
they come from somewhere,
and have some place to go.

She sees them bouncing up and down
the streets, swagging vigor to and fro.
Sometimes they meet and talk,
badge to badge, boar to sow.

She doesn’t get what they say.
Normally, they just proceed,
prancing days, romping nights,
round and round they gambol

through tunnels of sun
sounding golden horns,
steeds indeed, lit up
in glorious gowns a glut.

She had one once, but let go,
repeating the hollow phrase,
preferring not to be badgered,
“And that has made all the difference.”



  1. bristlehound says:

    This is really powerful Joe and makes me bristle some-what. A false existence is a non-existence and to actually jump on board the train going nowhere is shallow.
    I have been exposed to great people, many of which are poor and many of which are wealthy. All of these great people have one quality that distinguishes them from others and that is honesty. Not the honesty of giving back the correct change in a transaction, but the willingness to explain the real reasons why they needed to do that. For me, an honest crook will be my friend longer than a ‘Networking Soldier’. Back-slapping is an important part of our getting along in a society denuded of civility and graciousness, I am first to admit that, but done without a sense of understanding place and it becomes dishonest. I hope I haven’t missed the point with this poem, but like looking at a painting, this is how I see (or read) this one. I am fired up now and going to sort out some big issues – but first coffee.B


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks for reading and comment, B. Just about “the point with this poem”: I probably don’t usually start writing with a point in mind, but discover ideas in the process of composing, putting things together, not that the ideas always have anything to do with one another! This Frost poem I found useful in trying to come to some conclusion for “Badges”: The Road Not Taken. The badge might be a societal value (what we want, even if what we want is bad for us). And maybe we let badges define people, even ourselves, hardly in keeping with the existential values of the 20th Century. Maybe the badge is the person, after all. In any case, the badge is a powerful symbol, both figuratively and literally. The badge is one’s ticket to ride. I’ve been sitting on this poem for a few years now, having started it at a bus stop on a busy corner downtown, a noisy corner, people “hanging” out, or walking to and fro, most with badges on display, though of course not all. Fairly literal poem for the most part, but maybe not. But with the badge comes some kind of privilege, or at least that’s how the badge is often sold and used, even if often used to exploit. That “golden horn” business, music from the nearby coffee shop mixing with the car horns, expensive cars. Anyway, all kinds of badges, though. And of course logos and signs and such. Without a badge, looking outside in, through the windows, wondering what’s going on, not getting in on it. The dropout, in the poem apparently deliberate, ironically seems to conclude that in the end, the badge, contrary to the usual reading of the Frost poem, does not make a difference. Well, maybe it both does and does not, at the same time. The key might be in how we define “difference.” … Something that came to mind reading your comment, a line from a Woody Guthrie song, “Pretty Boy Floyd”: “Some [men] will rob you with a six gun, others with a fountain pen.” Yellow dog contract, readers might suppose, and they’d be right, but the poet also wields a wild pen! The badge isn’t always economic, doesn’t always have something to do with business, but the badge seems to have something to do with a mask. I regret I was unable to find a window of comic relief in this poem. But I’ve been carrying it around too long. Been emptying some poem baskets lately. Got a doozy coming up later this week, I think, if it gets fully cooked. Coda: Is a poem just an idea in fancy clothes? Some no doubt are, but there are any number of different kinds of poems and poets. Maybe the poem is a badge some poets wear to get into a dance. … Red dust as a metaphor for business, by the way, comes from Han-shan.


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