Today's poem is by James Longenbach

Close Up


In retrospect I'd been waiting
For years, never speaking,
Never needing to learn. I listened

To the motorbikes, fumes swirling
From the street below—so many

People, so many ways to be alive and
I'd been given one: a narrative
In which each new event subsumed

The purpose of one preceding it—no reason
Ever to look back and therefore

No impetus to look away; no need
To imagine a future because it was

Waiting, beyond my control.
So that today it seems time began
Not when you lifted me towards you

But when we met by chance
Along the Corso, your eyes a little wild
Since after all those nights together

Circling the ramparts, pages
Turning one by one, who wouldn't

Have been puzzled by a face so lacking
In ambivalence, so unaroused
By doubt that to succumb would mean

Surrender of what over time
Allowed us to be drawn

Not only to a place where odors
Rise from streets below streets

But to each other: the capacity
To ruin what we love.


To think about purpose was to indulge
In a kind of preening: so much time

Spent locked in a room not wanting
To be heard. Other people
Passed in groups of twos and threes and for once

I didn't want to get closer.
I wanted to get to where I already was

By lowering the blinds;
As if by altering the way I spoke
I could respond to what approached me

Rather than explain.
First-person plural pronouns

Felt like an exaggeration of the private life.
At the same time there remained no I
That didn't threaten to confuse the possible

With the merely exotic.
Desk, white flowers in a vase—
I came more truly to inhabit

That apartment by leaving it behind.
And if I sacrificed the possibility of being

Understood, I didn't mind;
At night sometimes the hemlocks
Seemed as otherworldly as the stars.

I say seemed because I always knew
I'd exchanged one strategy
For another; it was only

Later, from a distance, that I saw
How revelation doesn't wait
For us to choose a form.


A mouth, an eye without
Connection to what entered it—
The method so successful

I might never have realized I had
A method: meticulousness

Driven by need to account for risk.
Imagine the freedom to live

Untouched by other people;
The world existing
Because at any moment

It could fall at my feet.
It was only a matter of time

Before a syntax of perspective
Reasserted itself, objects
In relation, and I understood

Why the accumulation of detail
Felt like loss. Remember

How my face looked simultaneously
Vivid and flat, the texture

An eyelash grown into the lid?
To know you exist

I had to imagine myself
Completely alone.

Copyright © 2002 James Longenbach All rights reserved
from The Paris Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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