For anyone who relies on the Muse, but sometimes finds her fickle. Usually, of course, that’s when we have ourselves been fickle to her.
Originally published in The Sun. In The Scheme of Things Edition 1, a stanza is omitted; will be corrected in the next edition.
One good new poem
is all you need
to get back
any bargain He likes —
your immortal soul
is no use like this anyway.
But stake you
and before the night is out, you’ll be back here
with sonnets, sestinas, ballads, pan-
toums, armies of heroic lines
that will win back anything.
You can do it, with
This is winter, that light pressed
under glass, that preserved memory
of light, your heart
as still and small as the tiny winter day,
as the days that stand
You’ll buy a gun! Hold up
Sharon Olds or Christopher What’s-His-Name:
Give me that
poem you don’t
Or children! Children have poems
coming out of their ears.
You’ll take an entire 3rd grade
hostage, make them do those
dream exercises; scoop up buckets
of images they’ll never miss,
the little bastards.
Oh God, these are children’s poems
and Sharon’s voice, and what’s-his-name’s
name, and here you are with
You want it so bad you can
taste it. Ah, no —
if you could taste it!
Nothing. All you need is —
all right, if not
the poem, then this
to breathe, oh, you could get
not the whole words, but, say
the vowels, the tone-
chiming, if the damned light
weren’t in a vice, if the night
that’s come so early and stayed
so late would let
OK, then try.
half a stanza,
stick with it.
But the stoic measures stack up,
a concrete scale of false steps,
each phrase an abrasion;
and a sudden spill
of color, thrill of vision,
simply seeps away,
just a big, leaky stain
inside your eyes,
your own, thin blood
on the loose…
— Loose! Yes, out of the leaden
echo then, the golden. This resonance can’t
be accidental (Did you know Hopkins, that one, was Liz
and Richard’s favorite, didn’t you always imagine them
saying it to each other in bed, in silk, drunk
with poetry and their own accents, didn’t it make it
hard to understand what went wrong for them?)
when there could be all this
life, this color, this heart finally in the still
unforcing, in the slight slide of light deeper across
one day, still winter but February’s sleight of hand
with the seasons, how could you doubt (But you didn’t imagine
the newsreels on the tarmac, Liz alone, fat again, waving off
reporters, cut to Richard flicking off a cigarette
as he too hurries to an airport door, the black and white
proof that luxury of words, and of loving words,
wasn’t, isn’t, enough) that resonance, echoes might come
from ground still cold,
or cold again.
Or you might imagine them.
Didn’t you always imagine?