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Christmas Poem 2003


Last December, I "retired" from writing poetry, and I haven't written an original poem since (other than collaborations), but on Halloween of this year I went alone to see an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum called "From El Greco to Picasso," on tour from the Philips Museum, the first American modern art collection (begun in the early twenties). Besides every painting in the collection being beautiful (having been culled from thousands of paintings in the complete collection), it was also here that I for the first time saw how the “cool” colors receded in a painting by Cezanne, and I became so dizzy that I had t sit on the floor for several minutes before I could go on.




And If I Didn’t Do It, Well, You Know, I Tried

(for Chris Bell, of Big Star)


I arrived in Memphis

and in a couple of minutes

this guy from out of nowhere

looking like a guy who did a lot of

worrying and who later turned out to be

a wild-eyed prophet with swamped-out

madness blaring from the speakers in his studio

brought about an early exit from me,

each thinking the other ridiculous—

it’s the only moment I’ve ever really

touched genius, and that its touch was

too cold for me, but afterwards became

a major obsession, developing a taste for

troubled love, late night

confessions and


razored apart and taped together,

spinning out of control the

imploding beauty he became.




Last Poem for Sarah


The order of all possible futures is raveling
into this one, where there is no room for me—
the order of the past rearranged
by whatever I do next—and what I do next
is determined and invisible only to me
but will make perfect sense when it arrives
in another moment that will for a moment
seem momentous, but will only become
an unremembered nothing as nothing is

left of everything that has gone before.




Testament (for Cocteau)


In case our creations are curious

about their authors.



The incomprehensible frightened me—

it was no longer a film

like everything else.


What’s become of me?

That which is unreal

cannot dream.


I am in the clouds

into which I have wandered

for an allusion with a great deal of


difficulty and a tough sort of weariness,

only to discover I have nothing

left to say.




The Role of the Poet. November 24th, Konya, Turkey


Do you believe in a Role for the Poet? If so, how does it differ from the Role of the Citizen?

No, I don’t. Do you believe in a Role for the Dentist? My dentist is more important to me than any poet.

                                                            —John Tranter



There is a difference between people who write poems and poets. Poets are those who embody a way of being in the world with a somewhat historically standardized and accurate profile. They are in a world of their own—in the world but not of it—like a door unhinged, by inclination or experience. Poets live apart from others, are free-spirited in their behavior and morals, and there’s also something slightly effete or dark and bookish and ultimately removed about them. A poet is fully aware in all moments of where they are in relationship to time and mortality—and so are not really where they seem to be at all. When I told people in Ireland that I was a poet, they brought me into their parlor and confessed everything to me, as if I were a priest. When people feel they are on an endless escalator going nowhere, the poet can articulate thoughts that take people for a ride to somewhere, or remind them of what has been forgotten, and sometimes this remembering is a form of medicine that can redeem a life.


Being a poet is a responsibility. As they say, “First, do no harm.” Sometimes this is like Rumi, turning in circles around his heart, sometimes this is like Whitman, walking the streets of Brooklyn with new eyes, or like those who sing of things hermetic in order to make them visible, like Blake, or those who transform the ordinary into its true amazement, or those who dance in the center of a crowd, turning the random mass into a throbbing wholeness. Or those who sing, who weave, who sculpt, who paint something that is really something else, leading the eye to where the artist’s eye is, not was. To do the real work so that your voice can become something other than just your voice, to transcend thought and then stay transcendent, to become something so much of the essence that the sense of self and time itself disappears. A poet is not interested in creating the new because they’re more interested in discovering what is already here. Nothing of imagining could equal this. A poet unmakes. A poem or a painting or any work of art is not a representation of something, it is something. It is a sharp image of what is, and still is, not what was or what will never be. A poem waits, a poem lurks, a poem hovers, breathing on its own. It teases us, is it something being told to us, or is it something we remember? A poem is like a sharp wind that scatters the clouds. A poem is a vision captured not by the eye in the skull but the eye that sees through the eye, first as the beloved and then as many other things as well, until all of the obstacles to joy have fallen away.


And then in the abject failure of every attempt at trying to realize, we realize we cannot realize and have no desire to realize any longer. We cannot hold it or become what we want but can only get out of its way and surrender to it, and then a nothing, a no one, discovers there is nothing left, and that only when there is nothing left can we know for certain what we are and what we are not.