Song of the Round Man

By Michael Palmer b. 1943 Michael Palmer

(for Sarah when she’s older)

The round and sad-eyed man puffed cigars as if
he were alive. Gillyflowers
to the left of the apple, purple bells to the right

and a grass-covered hill behind.
I am sad today said the sad-eyed man
for I have locked my head in a Japanese box

and lost the key.
I am sad today he told me
for there are gillyflowers by the apple

and purple bells I cannot see.
Will you look at them for me
he asked, and tell me what you find?

I cannot I replied
for my eyes have grown sugary and dim
from reading too long by candlelight.

Tell me what you’ve read then
said the round and sad-eyed man.
I cannot I replied

for my memory has grown tired and dim
from looking at things that can’t be seen
by any kind of light

and I’ve locked my head in a Japanese box
and thrown away the key.
Then I am you and you are me

said the sad-eyed man as if alive.
I’ll write you in where I should be
between the gillyflowers and the purple bells

and the apple and the hill
and we’ll puff cigars from noon till night
as if we were alive.

“Song of the Round Man” by Michael Palmer, from The Lion Bridge Copyright © 1998 by Michael Palmer. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Source: The Lion Bridge (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998)

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Poet Michael Palmer b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Subjects Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Language & Linguistics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Michael Palmer was born in New York City and educated at Harvard in the early 1960s, where he encountered Confessional poetry. His opposition to Confessionalism found root in a developing poetics when he attended the landmark 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, a three-week gathering where he met Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Clark Coolidge. Correspondence with those three poets greatly influenced Palmer’s early development . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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