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Three Poems from “A Manual for Living”

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Based on Epictetus

APPROACH LIFE AS IF IT WERE A BANQUET


Your rightful portion averts your ireful potion:
Caress what can’t be blessed, cup shadows under breasts.

Let pass what’s out of   ken: lover, job, riches,
a ripe peach
                       until it reaches you.

Bring salt for your honey, lime for your grenadine.
Money’s not your fault.

You’re a feathered peahen
                                                preening for marzipan men.

Impeccable models, often peccable,
drop their pants at inopportune instants.

Implore no more
                               for what is, is no more.


EVERYTHING HAS TWO HANDLES


Whether to grapple the hurt or hold
              the calm: Can reason spread
                            where ire infests the mind?

The handle you refuse
              to grasp proclaims you more than one
                                           you lurch to reach.

Why mire in the right/wrong amphora song.

No vigilance in this choir of one.
             No fast hook in the urn’s
                           broken-off arm.

                           Vie with hot verities.

The pie is getting cold.


OUR DUTIES ARE IN RELATION TO ONE ANOTHER


Feel unique in roiling solitude? Oh, you are not alone
though you may feel fallen, snow up your nose. Join
             with others in your dank reclusion.

How do you find something worth saying?
How do you find desire to find desire
              to find something worth saying?

And yes. That is where you might be: twice —
or is it thrice — removed in a receding
              mirror of acedia. Finding a way to

find a way to want to find a way back in
to conversation. This is what negative numbers
              (a negative soul) feel like: You want to want to want ...

If   you go back far enough — lateral excavation —
will you hit bone? So many converging lines yakking
             to themselves over a haywire switchboard

you used to find out who you were through
cookie crumbs tossed down your own path.
              Now that you have no crumbs, don’t

even have pockets to turn out—only the memory
of such acts, such things. How weary, stale, and
              profligate it seems to be to plasticize these

lines. You’re in a hamless state of mind.
Now get out and talk to anyone your age: Like you
              they’ve all got Death studded on the tongue, which

livelies up the talk they walk.

Source: Poetry (December 2012)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

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Three Poems from “A Manual for Living”

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