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In a Landscape: I

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“Are you happy?” That’s a good place to start, or maybe,
“Do you think you’re happy?” with its more negative
tone. Sometimes you’re walking, sometimes falling. That’s part
of the problem too, but not all of the problem. Flowers out the window
or on the windowsill, and so someone brought flowers.
We spend a long time interested in which way the car would
best go in the driveway. Is that the beginning of an answer?
Some way to say who we are?

Well, it brings us up to now, at any rate, as the limitations
of structure, which is the way we need for it to be. Invent some muses
and invoke them, or save them for the yard, some animus
to get us going. And what was it Michael said yesterday? That
the committee to do all these good things has an agenda to do all these
other things as well, that we decide are less good in our estimation,
so then we have this difficulty. It just gets to you sometimes. We have
a table of red apples and a table of green apples, and someone asks you
about apples, but that’s too general, you think, as you’ve made
several distinctions to get to this place of two tables, two colors.
How can that be an answer to anything? Or we can play the forgetting game,
how, for twenty years, my mother would answer for her forgetfulness
by saying it was Old-Timer’s Disease, until she forgot that too.

On the television, a truck passes left to right, in stereo. Outside,
a garbage truck passes right to left. They intersect. And so the world continues
around two corners. The table gets turned over, with several people
standing around seemingly not sure of what comes next. Look at them
politely as you can, they’re beginners too. And they say the right question
is far more difficult to get to than the right answer. It sounds good,
anyway, in the way other people’s lives are a form of distance, something
you can look at, like landscape, until your own starts to look that way
as well. Looking back at the alternatives, we never had children
or we had more children. And what were their names? As the living room parts
into halls and ridges, where we spend the afternoon imagining a plant,
a filing cabinet or two  ...   because some of these questions
you have with others, and some you have only with yourself.

Source: Poetry (June 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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In a Landscape: I

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  • Poet and editor John Gallaher earned a BA and an MFA at Texas State University and a PhD at Ohio University. Inspired by Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery, Gallaher composes searching yet often playful lyric poems engaged with the act of looking. In a 2014 Tupelo Quarterly interview with Kristina Marie Darling, Gallaher addresses his sense of what is possible within the realm of poetry, as opposed to nonfiction. “This is a topic that’s interested me since the 1980s, when I first started reading poetry seriously. Back then, a lot of the poetry I read sounded like autobiography, but there seemed to be a collective allergy to talking about it. There was this speaker who was not the poet, but who seemed an awful lot like the poet. … But the distancing of the speaker seemed to be the important thing, I guess. It’s always kind of bugged me, and...

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