Elegy with Narrative of Tragic Passing,Nostalgia,And Perfunctory Invocation of Peace
for Craig Arnold
There was the slip, the fall, and then
before them all the cast-off banana peel.
The slick of ice impossible at night to even see.
The warm puddle of water issuing
from the refrigerator larded with years
of midnight oaths of final repair.
The ankle turned years ago,
lifetimes ago, agos ago, it seems,
so long it's been cursing you,
your stupidity, your drunkenness, your inability
to lift from the earth even one inch
without truly dire consequence.
And then the bad knee, no, knees:
plural in their congenital ache,
their first-thing-in-the-morning tale of woe.
To go on is to belabor it,
your hypothetical end, your agnostic demise,
the groomed rows of data
on the actuarial table
which could have saved us all this trouble,
even if it couldn't save you from you.
Before this moment, before that one,
the sweet sun did your bidding.
It came when you called,
and the clouds were strange,
trained pets, the good kinds,
requiring no effort on your part, no attention, nothing.
Originally published in The Paris Review
Despite all my cloddish ways and everything
broken or turned over or spilled;
despite the serious thought given to mourning
what is mostly water and sugar.
tea steeped a while in its bitterness,
I’ve been able to live
in this precarious world without
breaking into bouts of fervent clogging,
or crunking, or whatever the kids these days call joy.
I’ve managed to never be naked
in the startled company of strangers,
except for that one time
I’m obligated by law
to remain utterly silent about.
Which is no fun
to even consider. Love, forgive
the modest scarring my modest skin
carries like luggage:
I’ve no better stories,
there are no flaming hulls crawled out of,
my eardrums weren’t perforated by fathoms of brine.
Within me there isn’t a life
once wracked with ecstatic danger
in countries no one can spell
or even say. I have these elbows,
the same as most men
who’ve passed through life
without a moment
boiled in rage. And this sore toe,
victim of a lifelong failure
to turn appliances off
without minor injury.
The radio barely works,
holds true to no station
and no song no matter
how piercingly sad,
leaving me to sing the severed rest
to you, to you, to you,
while the night draws near enough
anything could listen.
Originally published in Tin House
Paul Guest is the author of four volumes of poetry and a memoir. His debut, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, was awarded the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. His second collection, Notes for My Body Double, was awarded the 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. His third collection, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge, was published by Ecco Press/ HarperCollins in 2008. His poems have appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Poetry, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. His memoir, One More Theory About Happiness, was published by Ecco and selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Writers’ Award, Guest teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia.