Today's poem is by James Longenbach
In retrospect I'd been waiting
For years, never speaking,
Never needing to learn. I listened
To the motorbikes, fumes swirling
From the street belowso 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 itno 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
Copyright © 2002 James Longenbach All rights reserved
from The Paris Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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