To His Own Device

By Timothy Donnelly Timothy Donnelly
That figure in the cellarage you hear upsetting boxes
is an antic of the mind, a baroque imp cobbled
up under bulbs whose flickering perplexes night’s
impecunious craftsman, making what he makes
turn out irregular, awry, every effort botched
in its own wrong way. You belong, I said, laid out chalk-
white between a layer of tautened cotton gauze
and another of the selfsame rubbish that you are
wreaking havoc on tonight—and it didn’t disagree.
What’s more, I said, you are amiss in this ad hoc quest
for origin and purpose. Whatever destiny it is
you are meant to aspire to before you retire to
that soup-bowl of oblivion such figments as we
expect to find final rest in couldn’t possibly be
contained in these boxes. And again—no contest.
And when I was in need, I said, you raveled off
in the long-winded ploys of a winless October,
unfaithful to the one whose instincts had devised you . . .
—At this, the figure dropped the box from its hands,
turned down a dock I remembered and wept.
I followed it down there, sat beside it and wept.
Looking out on the water in time we came to see
being itself had made things fall apart this way.
We envied the simplicity implicit in sea-sponges
and similar marine life, their resistance to changes
across millennia we took to be deliberate, an art
practiced untheatrically beneath the water’s surface.
We admired the example the whole sea set, actually.
Maritime pauses flew like gulls in our exchanges.
We wondered that much longer before we had left.

Timothy Donnelly, “To His Own Device” from The Cloud Corporation. Copyright © 2010 by Timothy Donnelly. Reprinted by permission of Wave Books.

Source: The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2010)

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Poet Timothy Donnelly

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

 Timothy  Donnelly


Timothy Donnelly is the author of two books of poetry, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit, and The Cloud Corporation. He earned a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MFA from Columbia University, and a PhD from Princeton University.
Spencer Bailey, in an article for, called The Cloud Corporation “an eclectic, albeit judicious, mix of sprawling, cinematic subjects and literary . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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