The Shoe Box

A high school mash note’s stammering lust.
Father and me, shirts and ties, snapshot glare,
and somehow graphed into that air
a young man’s foolscap poem when a just,
loose joinery of words was all that mattered.
But then in last night’s dream, she (mother, wife,
mash note’s love?) tells me a box holding secret life
has been shipped, enclosing sounds I haven’t heard:
a wind-harp’s warp, words yarding across staves,
fluty sounds ribboned to sad, screechy tunes.
And things: a wishbone, ring, whatever I crave,
the heart-hollows, the cannot-do-withouts, the whens
and whos, the frayed veils between death and here...
I packed this box myself. I packed it full of fear.


The editors of Poetry magazine have paired the following prose quotations from City Dog: Essays by W.S. Di Piero with this poem:

The voices of my world were not tender and unquestioning. Conversations, especially among members of my mother’s family, were choleric eruptions. If by some accident a rational argument occurred, defeat was registered not by words of acknowledgment but by a sardonic, defiant sneer.... Anger, impatience, and dismissive ridicule of the unfamiliar were the most familiar moods. Everyone around me, it seemed, spoke in the brittle, pugnacious tones I still hear when my own voice comes snarling out of its vinegary corner.

I hardly ever heard anyone in my family or neighborhood say they were angry with (or fond of) so-and-so. It was instead an aimless but earnest wrathfulness or rapture, theatrical and purposeless, a kind of roving sparkiness going off constantly in the universe at large, for it took in God and all His angels and His saints. My people always seemed to be picking a fight with circumstance, with the very fact of circumstance, and in the absence of specific aggravating circumstance the cosmos would do. I didn’t know how peculiar this was until I left it behind and found outside my culture a broader and more pliable medium for moral feeling. Nor did I realize how deeply its music had settled in my heart until I heard in the poetry I came to write that same extremity of unease and rage at circumstance.

“The Shoe Box” from Nitro Nights, © 2011, reprinted by permission of the Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press. Prose excerpts selected from City Dog: Essays, © 2009, reprinted by permission of Northwestern University Press.

Source: Poetry (June 2012)
More Poems by W. S. Di Piero