Autobiography 3

By Michael Palmer b. 1943 Michael Palmer
Yes, I was born on the street known as Glass—as Paper, Scissors or Rock.
Several of my ancestors had no hands.
Several of my ancestors used their pens
in odd ways.
A child of seven I prayed for breath.
Each day I passed through the mirrored X
into droplets of rain congealed around dust.
I never regretted this situation.
Though patient as an alchemist I failed to learn English.
Twenty years later I burned all my furniture.
Likewise the beams of my house
to fuel the furnace.
Once I bought an old boat.
I abandoned the tyrannical book of my dreams
and wrote about dresses, jewels, furniture and menus
eight or ten times in a book of dreams.
It sets me to dreaming when I dust it off.
Our time is a between time; best to stay out of it.
Send an occasional visiting card to eternity or a few stanzas to the living
so they won’t suspect we know they don’t exist.
Sign them Sincerely Yours, Warmest Regards, Thinking of You or
Deepest Regrets.
Brown river outside my window, an old boat riding the current.
What I like most is to stay in my apartment.
So that is my life, pared of anecdotes.
I go out occasionally to look at a dance.
Otherwise the usual joys, worries and inner mourning.
Occasionally in an old boat I navigate the river
when I find the time.
Water swallows the days.
I think maybe that’s all
I have to say
except that an irregular heart sometimes speaks to me.
It says, A candle is consuming a children’s alphabet.
It says, Attend to each detail of the future-past.
Last night the moon was divided precisely in half.
Today a terrifying wind.

Michael Palmer, "Autobiography 3" from The Promises of Glass. Copyright © 2000 by Michael Palmer.  Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Promises of Glass (New Directions, 2000)

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Poet Michael Palmer b. 1943


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Life Choices, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships


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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SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Life Choices, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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