Listen to Dan Chiasson read this poem.
It is impossible for me to remember
the cozy room I slept in as a child.
Somebody made my bed up to be paradise.
It was hard for me, a hard night, when I entered art.
The tendons in my wrist are visible.
What will I do now I have made this fist?
To loosen it feels weird, anticlimactic—
a misuse, a misunderstanding, of fists.
That’s how it was with me that night.
And so, mysteriously, I lost my sweetness.
Weird, to feel intended for violence,
when what I wanted was an hour of rest.
Find some other reason to sway, forest;
old people get bent over
from vitamin deficiencies; trees,
take them as your inspiration.
For I have neither time nor energy
any longer to write poems, to make feeling
out of what, without me, is silent;
I find your standing there disgusting.
And you, reader, I see you nod your head,
treelike, appraising these lines;
I find your standing there—
not disgusting, but not inspiring either.
All day I waited to be blown;
then someone cut me down.
I have, instead of thoughts,
uses; uses instead of feelings.
One day I’ll feel the wind again.
A moment later I’ll be gone.
Whitman wrote this, before he started writing poetry.
He was a journalist for years, you know;
a radical, a partisan for some ridiculous cause.
He wrote this to support—or was it to condemn—a cause.
It doesn’t matter since he wasn’t Whitman yet.
Now that he’s been Whitman for so long, it would.
Everything scatters as the night wears on:
but you, don’t scatter, will you?
I think we could make this night last forever.
With our joined heads, like mathematicians,
we could work all night, so that
where night once was, work would be; and night,
as long as work went on, would never end.
It is starting to sound a little tiring:
all this working, just to stave off morning.
6. Sound, 2 a.m.
A minute ago I was a child coughing: having had
too much of everything today, except for air.
Now I am an animal, feeling, tonight, perplexed—
I fled the outside, the cold, the lack of food;
I meant to enter a house, which I connect with warmth,
which my body told me was the appropriate move.
Instead I entered a person’s mind. Like the child,
I am trapped: I have no will, no life to call my own.
Reality isn’t one point in space.
It isn’t one moment in time—
look at time, a spool of twine
one minute, idle in a sewing kit,
the next minute a shooting star.
Reality is an average of moods,
strike that, a flock of birds,
strike that, a single bird
tracked through dense forest:
you can lose it for hours or days,
but it isn’t lost. You tired of the metaphor.
The tendons flattened and the knot untied.
You could do anything, then, with your hand;
you could forget the fact you had a hand.
This lasted, or so you were tempted to think,
for years; winter didn’t matter,
yet spring arrived as a blessing to your body.
Sweetness, or what passed for it, returned;
and then, like an anchor yanked suddenly
from the sea, your muscles clenched.