V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




            “I found myself in a dark wood
            where the right way was lost”

                            --Dante, Inferno, Canto 1, 1-2

In our College of Glooms
he sauntered about in leather pants
striding the halls as if they were a deck
from his sailing days in the Merchant Marine
as if he were here on shore leave
and had to make ship in Seattle
tailing trucks through snowy foothills
as flurries veered at his windshield
and brake lights blinked ahead on the turns
as he chanted to himself and the snow
all the poems he ever learned alone
on moon-washed nights when waves were listening:
Dylan Thomas.  Wallace Stevens.
"The Astabula Bridge Disaster."
—squinting into the dark and saying poems,
overtaking a truck on the straightaway
driving hard until he hit Puget Sound
where the sea rushed the rocks on the beach
under a fat moon wreathed in fog
and the bellbuoy chimed all night.

And, now, at eighty, slumped in a wheelchair,
half-paralyzed, gaunt, short-term memory gone,
snow-white hair tied in a pony-tail,
ramming his foot-rest into the plaster wall
he pauses, remembering us from forty years ago,
and says my name, his old friend come to see him,
having driven through rural Pennsylvania
past gunsmith shops and pheasant farms, sad old towns,
wood-rotten, paint-peeling towns, forgotten when
the forests were lumbered out, the coal and oil, taken,
Old Glory drooping from streetside porches,
in the indifferent glare of summer.

“Man,” he says, rolling back his wheelchair, “I didn’t know
how much I missed you until I saw you again.” But then he asks:
“what is this place?” and returns to banging at the wall.

Calling into the dark wood where he wanders,
I mention the names of women he lived with
and he stops rocking for a moment, and smiles,
finding himself once again in a known place
as welcome forms slip out from synaptic fogs
and he recites their names. What else do poets do
but say the names that summon love?

Come Beatrice, and Lucia, bringer of light,
Poeta fui, e cantai. “I was a poet, and sang….”

© by John Balaban



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