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It's like This

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for Peter Parrish

Each morning the man rises from bed because the invisible
cord leading from his neck to someplace in the dark,
the cord that makes him always dissatisfied,
has been wound tighter and tighter until he wakes.

He greets his family, looking for himself in their eyes,
but instead he sees shorter or taller men, men with
different degrees of anger or love, the kind of men
that people who hardly know him often mistake
for him, leaving a movie or running to catch a bus.

He has a job that he goes to. It could be at a bank
or a library or turning a piece of flat land
into a ditch. All day something that refuses to
show itself hovers at the corner of his eye,
like a name he is trying to remember, like
expecting a touch on the shoulder, as if someone
were about to embrace him, a woman in a blue dress
whom he has never met, would never meet again.
And it seems the purpose of each day’s labor
is simply to bring this mystery to focus. He can
almost describe it, as if it were a figure at the edge
of a burning field with smoke swirling around it
like white curtains shot full of wind and light.

When he returns home, he studies the eyes of his family to see
what person he should be that evening. He wants to say:
All day I have been listening, all day I have felt
I stood on the brink of something amazing.
But he says nothing, and his family walks around him
as if he were a stick leaning against a wall.

Late in the evening the cord around his neck draws him to bed.
He is consoled by the coolness of sheets, pressure
of blankets. He turns to the wall, and as water
drains from a sink so his daily mind slips from him.
Then sleep rises before him like a woman in a blue dress,
and darkness puts its arms around him, embracing him.
Be true to me, it says, each night you belong to me more,
until at last I lift you up and wrap you within me.

Stephen Dobyns, “It’s Like This” from Velocities: New and Selected Poems. Copyright � 1994 by Stephen Dobyns. Reprinted with the permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors, see www.penguin.com.
Source: Velocities: New and Selected Poems (1994)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 1980 issue of Poetry magazine

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It's like This

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