Truth-Taking Stare

By David Wojahn b. 1953 David Wojahn

... in which generally the patient has the sense of having lost contact with things, or of everything having undergone a subtle but all-encompassing change, reality revealed as never before, though eerie in some ineffable way.
—Louis Sass

Or gallery. Or strange askew museum. Or painting of a hotel bed   
with some cheap print above the headboard. (Palm tree or a sleigh   
pulling Xmas trees.) Or the day two-dimensional, subzero

as I run the beach along the frozen lake. The waves   
lathed to Hokusai spirals. Cold gallery, every inch   
of wall space covered, park benches derbied by snow.

House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. House for battered women.   
House of the servants of His Godhead Reverend Moon   
Who plots in some Seoul penthouse His glorious

death and resurrection. Ten minutes ago I left you
to the laying on of hands. Maria talking fast in glottal   
Polish, and the physical therapist, hugely blonde,

lifting your legs, white cocoons of the casts. First up,   
then to the sides, the hospital bed in the living room   
hulking, whirring as it moves along with you.

To talk of this and you directly, though I can’t.   
To heal you with my own hands though I can’t.
Legs not working, hands not working, tongue encased in plaster.

The tongue going numb with the hands. Why my friend Dave   
loves jazz: to hammer and obliterate the words,   
nullify too the wordlessness. “Blue Train” on my Walkman

as the Moonies leave from house to van, lugging crates   
of silken flowers. Blue pills that didn’t work.   
Then my month of yellow pills. To not metamorphose

to my father writhing as the charges surge
from temples down the spine, a dog’s twitching legs   
in sleep. To mollify with acronyms: ECT, Odysseuses

and Tristans of PDR, yellow Prozac, sky blue Zoloft.   
To heal you with my own hands though I can’t.
The day two-dimensional. (Past and present and to dwell

in neither.) Truth-taking stare. Height and width,   
no depth. On a screen the paramedics ease you
from car to ambulance, having labored with a crowbar

at the door, and I push again through the crowd   
on Thorndale. This is my husband. Please
let him come with me. The inside of the ambulance,

overlit. Not a scream, the mute button pushed.   
Generally the patient has the sense ... To watch
the memories shuffle on a screen. To Portugal ten years ago.

Our Lady of The Wordless Stare. The Bishop of Leiria   
in sepia on the gallery wall, his hand that waves
a sealed envelope. Caption: “The Famous Third Secret of Fatima.”

The visitor’s center, thronging with white habits.
The road to the Basilica flanked by tourist booth, a wax museum.   
Faces of two nuns who point to every photo, who’ve fled Cambodia,

one who speaks some English, and the beautiful younger one   
whose tongue was “excised” by the Khymer Rouge—
on pilgrimage, thanksgiving for deliverance.

Their charter bus from Nice is parked outside,
pneumatic door and motor humming. Our Lady of the Wordless   
stares at me. She stares .... And I’m shaken out of it

by helicopter stammer, drowning Coltrane,
all sixteenth notes as the Moonies reach the left of the frame.   
Dissolve, myself, from the right of the frame. Synesthetic

whir of chopper blades, six hundred feet above the lake.   
Then the picture empty. And the lake with wind anointed.   
And the lake with wind. And the emptiness, anointed.

David Wojahn, “Truth-Taking Stare” from The Falling Hour. Copyright © 1997. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Falling Hour (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

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Poet David Wojahn b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Music, Health & Illness, Architecture & Design, Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences


Ever since his first collection, Icehouse Lights, was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets award in 1981, David Wojahn has been one of American poetry’s most thoughtful examiners of culture and memory. His work often investigates how history plays out in the lives of individuals, and poet Tom Sleigh says that his poems “meld the political and personal in a way that is unparalleled by any living American poet.”

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SUBJECT Music, Health & Illness, Architecture & Design, Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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