refuses the absence it names; but nothing exists.
Like when I remember I’ve forgotten a word
and I walk through my day where the trees exist
saying over to myself inv- inv- so sure the word begins
with the letter i, a word that means something
about ice and how light reflects heat off of it.
When I say intaglio I know that is wrong
but in my mouth there is no other word to say.
That is not forgetting; but forgetting exists.
I read many poems in a day and after many
I simply say, I don’t know. I don’t know
what it is or how it works. I don’t know
what it means if it means anything at all,
or if that desire is some nostalgia for what
no longer exists. I tell myself to grow up;
I am grown up. I feel it in my need to confess.
When I look at my life I see I’ve entered
into equivalency. So many forms of likeness
to struggle with—now I am one more example
of Philip Guston’s later paintings. Not
those early works of subtle abstraction
where difference maintains an almost classical
sense of shame, but where a cartoon arm
holds a cartoon hammer and it must knock
down the brick wall the same hand built.
I know I’ve grown out of touch
when I tell a group of people gathered around
that I feel as if I’ve let Mr. John Keats down
and they all laugh as if—
as if I’d made a joke. This poem is an elegy.
I tried to make that clear in the title.
I see I’ve wasted my life in distractions
when all along I felt so focused, so diligent,
so “at work.” I don’t have consumption
nor do I want it. I’ve read enough about wasting
diseases to harbor any romantic notions.
But wouldn’t it be nice to say, “I’m wasting away”
and have this proof of the skin pulled away from the bone
and never springing back? I can say it, but
I have no proof. I think there’s a word for this condition.
I walk through my day in which clouds exist,
and so do birds; birds exist, and so do children;
children exist, and their teeth; pillows exist,
and so does sorrow; and sleep. I walk through the day
half-asleep saying to myself sch- sch-
shaking my head, no, that’s not it, cho- cho-
and when as a child with the whip of a willow stick
I swept off the heads of the dandelions while I walked,
I say school. School. No, chorus. But that’s not it.
Copyright © Dan Beachy-Quick
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.