Trying to Write a Poem While the Couple in the Apartment Overhead Make Love

David Wagoner

She’s like a singer straying slowly off key
        while trying too hard to remember the words to a song
                        without words, and her accompanist
is metronomically dead set
            to sustain her pitch and tempo, and meanwhile,
                        under their feathers and springs, under their
under my own ceiling, I try to go on
            making something or other out of nothing
                        but those missing words, whose rhythm is only
predictable for unpredictable moments
            and then erratic, unforeseeable even
                        at its source where it ought to be abundantly,
even painfully clear. A song is a series of vowels
            interrupted and shaped by consonants
                        and silence, and gifted singers say if you can
pronounce words and remember how to breathe,
            you can sing. Although I know some words by heart
                        and think I know how to breathe (even down here
at work alone) and may be able sometimes
            to write some of them down, right now it seems
                        improbable they’ll have anything much like
the permissive diction, the mounting cadences,
            now, or then or now again the suspended
                        poise, the drift backward, the surprise
of the suddenly almost soundless catch
            of the caught breath, the quick
                        loss of support
which wasn’t lost at all as it turns out
            but found again and even again
                        somewhere, in midair, far, far above me.

David Wagoner is an American poet.
Originally published:
April 1, 2008


Rachel Cusk

The novelist on the “feminine non-state of non-being”
Merve Emre


Renaissance Women

A new book celebrates—and sells short—Shakespeare’s sisters
Catherine Nicholson

Fady Joudah

The poet on how the war in Gaza changed his work
Aria Aber

You Might Also Like

Love Poem

Cecily Parks


New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.