I knew Reginald ages ago in Iowa City. As my mother'd say (hi Mom!), he was quite a character. In this poem and in others, I admire his use of assonance, alliteration, internal near rhyme and...botany. In his first book, Some Are Drowning, doesn't he use the names of flowers to describe Kaposi's sarcoma blossoming on someone's skin?

You, Therefore

For Robert Philen

by Reginald Shepherd

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name

Find this poem and more about the poet Reginald Shepherd here. Read Reginald's Harriet blog here.

Originally Published: June 25th, 2009

Catherine Halley is the editor of JSTOR Daily, an online magazine that draws connections between current affairs, historical scholarship, and other content available on JSTOR, a digital library of scholarly journals, books, and primary sources. She is the former digital director of the Poetry Foundation, where she served as editor...

  1. June 25, 2009
     Annie Finch

    Wonderful to see this poem here, Cathy, especially since Harriet meant so much to Reginald. The Harriet posts you link to here are the basis for his second book of essays, forthcoming in the Poets on Poetry series.

  2. June 25, 2009
     michael robbins

    Oh that I were a blogger for Harriet. Someone needs to write a post about Michael Jackson. I am the man to do it.\r

    This hour, I am sad.

  3. June 25, 2009
     Don Share

    I was going to blog about Sky Saxon... Wonder if Reginald listened to The Seeds, ever; possibly so. "Pushin' Too Hard" was his kind of song, I bet.

  4. June 25, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    My favorites were 'Man in the Mirror' and 'Black or White'.\r

    Jeez...it seems like he's been around singing for us all our lives, hasn't he?

  5. June 25, 2009
     michael robbins

    He has been, in my case. I just listened to Thriller front to back for the first time in years. A towering work.

  6. June 26, 2009
     thomas brady

    Quincy Jones.\r

    How long ago it seems now when his daughter was Jim's girlfriend...

  7. June 26, 2009
     thomas brady

    Whiter Shade of Michael\r

    He sang the rough falsetto,\r
    Moon-walked across the floor,\r
    He was a kid but very famous\r
    but the crowd called out for more,\r
    The room was humming harder\r
    as the ceiling flew away;\r
    When he called out for another drink,\r
    the waiter brought a tray\r

    And so it was that later\r
    as his agent told his tale\r
    that his face, at first just ghostly,\r
    turned a whiter shade of pale\r

    She said, 'If you want Motown,\r
    then I'll give you 'ABC.'\r
    But I wandered through my records\r
    and would not let her be,\r
    The Beatles changed the picture\r
    But there still was Quincy Jones,\r
    and although his eyes were open\r
    they might have just as well've been closed\r

    And so it was that later\r
    as his sister told his tale\r
    that his face, at first just ghostly,\r
    turned a whiter shade of pale\r

    He said, 'I'm home on shore leave,'\r
    though, in truth, on MTV\r
    so I took him by the video\r
    and forced him to agree\r
    saying, 'You must do the robot\r
    and forget the Jackson 5.'\r
    But he smiled at me so sadly\r
    that my anger straightway died\r

    And so it was that later\r
    as the child told his tale\r
    that his face, at first just ghostly,\r
    turned a whiter shade of pale\r

    If Thriller was our answer, \r
    The revenge against the queen\r
    and the British Invasion whiteys,\r
    whose dirt was mostly clean,\r
    His mouth by then sought children,\r
    seemed to slip straight through our head\r
    So he crash-dived straightway quickly\r
    To Elizabeth Taylor's bed\r

    And so it was that later\r
    as the public told his tale\r
    that his face, at first just ghostly,\r
    turned a whiter shade of pale