When your genius had grown tiresome to everyone,
and the profligate owners of many karaoke bars
had agreed to never readmit you, not again,
after that last time and all the phlegmatic pleading
and bedraggled supplication, you had to go
down to the gushing artery of the interstate
and think of rivers. In your hands you held
a wheel of cheese you bought at a mall
and while the passing cars began to glow in the dark
and their horns sang intermittent rage
you wished to be more intensely American.
In motion, slamming into the febrile horizon.
While the night just happened, no warning, no nothing,
you tried to eat, to not be hungry,
to be aware of many other things.
It was the kind of holiday no one despises.
People warred about snow and where coffee comes from.
A pigeon hopped past, unable to fly:
one leg dragged on the ground,
mangled, unexplained. You knew it would die.
Watched Pot Apostrophes
You will never boil. You’ll go blind
not doing that. In space, your blood
will also refuse to boil. No surprise
all the movies are dead wrong,
though my nerves aren’t soothed
whenever I’m bobbing in the vacuum
like an apple in ice water.
You are going to receive money.
And then you’ll spend it
on a fiberglass replica
of the sports car you wanted
when you were thirteen.
Or fifteen. You may think this matters,
this discrepancy fluttering
in your face like a ragged moth.
Trust me, you'll summer in Ceylon.
When they decide to change
the name back. When all
the maps at once go a little bad.
I’ve assumed more
than is good for one’s soul.
You’ll inform me you bled out a long time ago.
In Chicago. In Reading.
Somewhere cold. Winter
all the time, where people go
down to the frozen water
with an old crowbar
to bash the skin of the ice back to flowing current.
You were one of them,
weren’t you, with death
itching in the brain like a cloud of midges?
You won’t fall if I let go.
I never held you in my arms.
Paul Guest is author of three collections of poetry: The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (2003), which won the New Issues Poetry Prize; Notes for My Body Double (2006), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize; and My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco, 2008). He is also author of the memoir, One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco, 2010). Paul’s honors and awards include a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and teaches at the University of Virginia.