Poetry

Prospects from the Palisades

John Koethe

We’re always other people, whoever they are.
I’m grateful to poets’ biographies—a genre nearly as
Obsolete as its subjects—for helping me make myself up,
Though with this last one of Wallace Stevens, that
Owl of the Imagination, I hardly have to try,
Just check off the anomalies as the chapters go by:
Pennsylvania, echt deustch; a minor jock in high school;
Harvard, New York, confusions of the heart; parents estranged
By a marriage; a boisterous temperament; an ovoid shape.

I’m supposed to sound like him, though I don’t hear it.
What I hear is an elevated tone, tinctured with death:
The cheerfulness of disillusionment, the exhilaration of No,
The power of the words when you don’t believe them anymore
And you’re left with them. I like to think I’m clearer,
That I have ideas beyond their sounds, but it doesn’t matter.
What matters is the brute presence of the world, the mute response.
Poets come and go and what they see are redoubtable forms of nothing,
Whether from a secluded refuge on the Palisades or an SUV:
An inert blue sky, themselves, these shelves on shelves of clouds.

John Koethe is the author of the collection of poems The Swimmer. Walking Backwards: Poems 1966–2016 will be published in November.
Originally published:
July 1, 2018

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