Mona Van Duyn


Sometimes when I read a book (verse or memoir,
novel, tales, travel, fat or slim)
a collapsed balloon sleeps silently under the door,
sucks me in, inflates, and is once more
the world itself, or the world my favorite guise –
a sly, reckless, outrageous poet who rhymes
it's fiddleheads with its frost ferns, its starspace
with pasture, buttes with gullies, Cloud Ears with cliff-face.
In an air filled with this on unearthly Muzak
of earth, a child, eyes wide, is lifted and held
for a first sight by arms of the artistry
that found the view and breathe “Look!” The child is me.
Innocent endings as anyone at an
introduction, the rapt mind gazes, sees,
clasped, and love's murmur, in the world's strange song.
But by the right hand's wiser senses, all along,
ripping through timelessness, have begun to measure.
Between a thumb and fingers the ground gross thinner,
begins to glow with an efflorescence like pain.
See slowly! I beg my eyes but again and again
the fingers feel how fast the time is coming
when arms will drop, and the child fall through and be gone.
Even more terribly, footnotes, index, or postscript
can fool the alarm to the trap is abruptly tripped.
“I cannot bear it,” I think is, but read on in a rage
for the rest of whatever it is, for the child, for the “Look!”
until the hand on which my heart is depending
holds only the blank page that follows an ending.


Setting the VCR when we go to bed
to record a night owl movie, some charmer we missed,
we always allow, for unprogrammed unforeseen,
an extra half hour. (Night gods of the small screen
are ruthless with watchers trapped in there piety.)
We watch next evening, and having slowly found
the start of the film, meet the minors and leads,
enter their time and place, their wills and needs,
hear in our chest the click of empathy's padlock,
watch the forces gather, unyielding world
against the unyielding hard, one's longing minefield
laid for another longing, which may yield.
Tears will solve the leftover salad I seize
during ads, or laughter slow my hurry to pee.
But as clot melts toward clearness a black fate
may fall on the screen; the movie started to late.
Torn from the backward-shining of an end
that lights up the meaning of the whole work,
disabled in the mind and feeling, I flail and shout,
“I cannot bear it! I have seen how it comes out!”
For what is story if not relief from the pain 
of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless?
Minds in their silent blast-off search your space
– how often I've followed yours! for a resting place.
and I'll follow, pass each universe in spangled
ballgown who waits for the slow-dance of life to start,
past vacancies of darkness whole vainglory
is endless as death's, to find the end of the story.

Mona Van Duyn was an American poet. She was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1992 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991.
Originally published:
April 1, 1992


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