Scrabble with Matthews

By David Wojahn b. 1953 David Wojahn
Jerboa on a triple: I was in for it,   
my zither on a double looking feeble   

as a "promising" first book. Oedipal & reckless,   
my scheme would fail: keep him a couple drinks   

ahead, & perhaps the muse would smile   
upon me with some ses or some blanks.   

January, Vermont: snowflakes teased the windows   
of the Burlington airport bar. The waitress   

tallied tips & channel-surfed above the amber   
stutter of the snowplow's light: it couldn't   

keep up, either. Visibility to zero, nothing taking off   
& his dulcimer before me (50 bonus points   

for "bingos") like a cautionary tale. The night   
before I'd been his warm up act,   

the audience of expensive preppies   
doubling to twenty when he shambled   

to the podium to give them Martial   
& his then-new poems. "Why do you write   

something nobody reads anymore?" queried one   
little trust fund in a blazer. "Because   

I'm willing to be honestly confused   
& honestly fearful." Il miglior fabbro,   

a.k.a. Prez: sweet & fitting honorifics he has left   
upon the living's lips. Sweet & fitting too   

that I could know the poems much better than   
the man, flawed as I am told he was. Connoisseur   

of word-root & amphibrach, of Coltrane   
solo & of California reds, of box score & Horatian loss,   

his garrulousness formidable & masking   
a shyness I could never penetrate, meeting him   

would always find me tongue-tied,   
minding my ps & qs, the latter of which   

I could not play, failing three times to draw a u.   
The dead care nothing for our eulogies:   

he wrote this many times & well.   
& yet I pray his rumpled daimonion

shall guide our letters forward   
as they wend the snow-white notebook leaves,   

the stanzas scrolling down the laptop screens.   
Game after game & the snow labored on.   

Phalanx, bourboned whiteout & the board aglow   
as he'd best me again & again. Qintar

& prosody, the runway lights enshrouded   
& the wind, endquote, shook the panes.

Source: Poetry (October 2002).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 2002


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.”

His . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Winter, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Nature, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Allusion, Couplet

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