The Search Party

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews
I wondered if the others felt
as heroic
and as safe: my unmangled family   
slept while I slid uncertain feet ahead   
behind my flashlight’s beam.
Stones, thick roots as twisted as   
a ruined body,
what did I fear?
I hoped my batteries
had eight more lives
than the lost child.
I feared I’d find something.

Reader, by now you must be sure   
you know just where we are,   
deep in symbolic woods.   
Irony, self-accusation,   
someone else’s suffering.   
The search is that of art.

You’re wrong, though it’s   
an intelligent mistake.   
There was a real lost child.   
I don’t want to swaddle it   
in metaphor.
I’m just a journalist
who can’t believe in objectivity.   
I’m in these poems
because I’m in my life.   
But I digress.
A man four volunteers   
to the left of me   
made the discovery.

We circled in like waves
returning to the parent shock.
You’ve read this far, you might as well   
have been there too. Your eyes accuse   
me of false chase. Come off it,
you’re the one who thought it wouldn’t   
matter what we found.
Though we came with lights
and tongues thick in our heads,
the issue was a human life.
The child was still
alive. Admit you’re glad.

William Matthews, “The Search Party” from Selected Poems and Translations, 1969-1991. Copyright © 1992 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,

Source: Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991 (1992)

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Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Parenthood, Youth, Death, Crime & Punishment, Living, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 William  Matthews


William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has . . .

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SUBJECT Parenthood, Youth, Death, Crime & Punishment, Living, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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