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Injun Joe as an Avatar

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The poetry’s arrested in his scene,
which can’t be trusted, because I saw it
through painkillers that softened my head,
after I’d asked him what Keats really meant:
“Was it a vision or a waking dream?”
You think that really mattered much to him?
In my waking vision dream, there’s no glory,
no prize committee or dew-drip Paradise.
He’s in an attic nook, or dim garage,
or the cellar where he actually writes,
the space a sheeted granulated matter,
his silenced countenance and de-boned body
scabby with caked ash about to crust and crack,  
poems piled at his feet like shoeshine rags.
A grave purpled fraughtness colors him.
What damaged him to this silence?
He still writes and still isn’t heard, as if
not being heard is the whole point of it,
and who are these children, these waving
Halloween windsocks who won’t talk to him?
Beyond my busybody vision, he staggers
through divorce, stooped, bereft, still writing.
Spiky and singing, he out-writes them all,  
the cheered, spotless others—he howls
at their after-dinner-speaker poetry,
the monsignors, the suburbans, the woo-woo
wisdom merchants weeping to the bank.
Poetry’s a weather that doesn’t need
a specific place: it’s a storm outside a cellar,
sunshine at a bedroom window.
Too much schoolroom poisons the idiom.
Too much reverence stinks up the joint.
The sorrow hanging in the dreamy air
seems to confuse him, he can’t understand
how his heart came to hurt him like this,
confuses it with leaves blurted out by storms,
leaves that keep falling fast in the cellar,
in poems he writes, the base desires and rage,
he says the gods designed the set,
stage-manage things, scripted them,
the hilarity that hurts us is
that none of it really matters,  
that poetry’s griefs are intimates
           we don’t choose.  
                      They come to us, for us.
                               They cling to body and soul.



Source: Poetry (April 2011)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

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Injun Joe as an Avatar

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