V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics






My son, at eight, would want to save the life
of the plate-eyed deer mouse
the cat occasionally carried home
to tutor for an afternoon.
She'd drop it on the rug, and sock it in the head
till it felt sick and wanted to go home
and wobbled up to the teacher to ask, "Please?
I don't feel well.  May I go home?"
but the teacher smiled, "Stop being a sissy,"
and swiped it in the head
until the new pupil was bewildered,
felt sicker in the stomach,
and would've cried except it was too scared,
and the teacher was talking: "Run!" "Stop!"
"Sit down!" "Raise your hand!"
"Shit in your pants!" "Run!"
"Sit down!" "Limp!" "That's it!"
"Break a leg!" "Run!" "That's it!"
"Break your neck!" "Run!"
"Throw up!" "That's it!"  She would
encourage it, ration out its hope
till it could be stored
beneath the sofa like a toy
and be counted on to cooperate.
In half an hour it would be released
like a little old man from the hospital.
Gamely, totteringly, he'll venture from cover
out into the light, offer himself again,
hoping that school is over.


Go!  The children lined along the sidelines
are shrieking in a way they'd never
shriek over arithmetic
as the differences between fast and slow
widen and grow until it's glaring
as a scream, a public obscenity—All men are not created equal—
the truth we must pretend we cannot see,
don't even know about, even
as it's being repeated louder until
the winners burst lightly through the tape
and are already banking gracefully away
to accept their ribbons
as if they'd known the outcome in advance.


The man and the woman love
to talk when they're making love,
though not all the time.
Sometimes they'll let themselves die
by drowning.  Sometimes
they'll watch themselves drown.  They don't need
any equipment.  No mirrors.  Only some words.
A code.  Protection from spies.
Mmm!  Sweetcorn!  Equipment,
they laugh, is for the birds,
for the bourgeoisie.
The rest don't know.
They take things—an arm, a shoulder—
literally.  Sometimes, during their deaths
and rebirths, the man and the woman
like to watch themselves
as they do it. As if our bodies
were a couple of puppies,
she sighs.  They marvel:
how the more they do it the more
deeply they love each other.
Then they laugh about how naive
was the boys' belief
that "strange" is attractive, about how
the more deeply they come
to understand the art
of familiarity, the faster
it snowballs, the more they know
the more they want more love.
And the more they know, the more
they know what they know
what they know
of love.

© by Jonathan Holden


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