The Perfect Life

By John Koethe b. 1945 John Koethe
I have a perfect life. It isn't much,   
But it's enough for me. It keeps me alive   
And happy in a vague way: no disappointments   
On the near horizon, no pangs of doubt;   
Looking forward in anticipation, looking back   
In satisfaction at the conclusion of each day.   
I heed the promptings of my inner voice,   
And what I hear is comforting, full of reassurance   
For my own powers and innate superiority—the fake   
Security of someone in the grip of a delusion,   
In denial, climbing ever taller towers   
Like a tiny tyrant looking on his little kingdom   
With a secret smile, while all the while

Time lies in wait. And what feels ample now   
Turns colorless and cold, and what seems beautiful
And strong becomes an object of indifference   
Reaching out to no one, as later middle age   
Turns old, and the strength is gone.   
Right now the moments yield to me sweet   
Feelings of contentment, but the human   
Dies, and what I take for granted bears a name
To be forgotten soon, as the things I know   
Turn into unfamiliar faces   
In a strange room, leaving merely   
A blank space, like a hole left in the wake   
Of a perfect life, which closes over.

Source: Poetry (March 2005).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2005
 John  Koethe


The author of several collections of poetry, including North Point North: New and Selected (2002), Ninety-fifth Street (2009), and ROTC Kills (2012), John Koethe also publishes and teaches philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of language. Koethe began writing poetry as an undergraduate at Princeton University and received his PhD from Harvard.

Critic Andrew Yaphe calls Koethe “one of our foremost Romantic poets, an inheritor . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Midlife, Growing Old, Living, Disappointment & Failure

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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