Poetry

Garland for You

Robert Penn Warren

Bene fac, hoc tecum feres.—Inscription: on the tomb of a Roman citizen of no historical importance, under the Empire.

Whoever you are, this poem is clearly about you,
For there’s nothing else in the world it could be about
Whatever it says, this poem is clearly true,
For truth is all we are born to, and the truth’s out.

You won’t look in the mirror? Well—but your face is there
Like a face drowned deep underwater, mouth askew,
And tongue in that mouth crisps cold water, not sweet air,
And if it could scream in that medium, the scream would he
     you.

Your mother preferred the more baroque positions.
Your father’s legerdemain marks the vestry accounts.
So you didn’t know? Well, it’s time you did—though one shuns
To acknowledge the root from which one’s own virtue mounts.

In the age of denture and reduced alcoholic intake,
When the crow’s dawn-calling stirs memory you’d better es-
     chew,
You will try the baptismal rebirth as balm for the heart’s ache—
But that stranger who’s staring so queerly, he knows you are
     you.

Things are getting somewhat out of hand now—light fails on
     the marshes.
In the back lot the soft-faced delinquents are whistling like
     snipe.

The apples you stored in the cellar are acerb and harsh as
The heart that on bough of the bosom all night will not ripe.

Burn this poem, though it wring its small hands and cry alack.
But no use, for in bed, into your pajama pocket,
It will creep, and sleep as snug as a field-mouse in haystack,
And its heart to your heart all night make a feather-soft racket.

Originally published:
January 1, 1958

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