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Damn, Keats, I Wish You’d Lived and Other Poems – Murray Silverstein

Apr 17, 2022 | Poetry | 0 comments

Damn, Keats, I Wish You’d Lived

Creator’s privilege, creator’s whimsy, creator’s pride,
yes, but object’s resistance, object’s desire to be left alone,

object’s narcissistic needs. So he mounts a rear-guard action,
strikes behind enemy lines—object’s rights,

object’s pleasures, object’s candor, object’s pride—
revealing the soul for what it is: observable, feelable heat.

Damn, Keats, I wish you’d lived! married Fanny,
had kids, grown old—great sex ’til you were blue—

just to see what you’d do, what we lost. Praise for the world,
no doubt, but what it is, this world, you would have told us.

I wonder if a line of older poets ever since is Keats grown old,
allowed to ripen like the apples on his moss’d cottage-trees.

Galway, Hass, Charles Wright—old Stevens is old Keats,
the marriage gone sour, no sex. But we live and we leave,

and what is the soul, soul-making, but the left and leaving,
the presence of? I think of the corners of old band posters

left stapled to poles long after the poster’s torn down:
in the sunlight on the pole and in the night behind the sun,

the lost and the losing, a music unheard.
And fragrance, too; the daphne in spring is jammed with souls!

Each with a task to complete, but they’re slow,
they look to us for help. This living hand, they say,

I hold it towards you. We feel them as heat—
object’s desires, object’s needs. Happy are the dead

when we help them with their work. It’s our work, too—
creator’s whimsy, creator’s pride.

What moves us moves them.


On Reading and Writing

When I’m reading, I notice I’m writing,
hunting for words, phrases to steal.

Is the written made, then, of earlier readings?

I’d thought it the other way around, writing itself
a kind of loose reading,
but reading, I see, is decay,
decay of being being written: We are
the only ones who read and write,
books our smoking compost piles.

Plunge the pitchfork in,
release the old wild smell.


There Was the Spotted Pony
—after Richard Wright & Czeslaw Milosz
There was the spotted pony, bells on its harness, the old man led to our door.
Lifting me onto the saddle, he put a black sombrero on my head, a kerchief
round my neck, and snapped a picture he sold to my mother, whose mother
was crushed by a horse-drawn wagon on the family farm.

Who can say what it is to be alive on this earth? Not me.

There was Riley, blind and living alone across the court, fish tank
by his door, the tank so full of plants and slime, I couldn’t see the fish.
They’re there, claimed Riley, keep looking, and gave me a book on fishing,
the word “angler” fresh to my eyes: to read, to watch, to wait.

You’d think, giving us eyes, it’s begging to be seen, this world, to be known.

There was my father, washing our car on the street, saying, Run in & get me a beer.
Filled with meaning I hop on my trike, and bumping along on its crooked wheels
shake the can of Schlitz, and it explodes all over the car. Father, whose father fled
the burning shtetl, throwing down his chamois cloth, cursing me, my trike and the beer.

Born into time, believing it’s ours, our time, until, open to pain and desire,
I am the author of time, says the earth, and you belong to me.

But wait, my sister’s nightstand, in the room we shared, her ice skates beneath it
in a leather zippered Polar Palace bag, where, when she left it open,
you could see the flashing blades!

Everything seen is ruled by the sun, whose law we learn by heart:
Who tries to look straight at me will go blind.

No, I say, shout it, there was...across Third Street, the field, unfenced, Gilmore’s,
where Ringling Brothers pitched its tents, saw the bearded lady, Lottie Letz,
while, a dozen horse-head oil rigs churned the deep, turning a fractured is
into the idyll was—I hear them in my sleep: what-was-ka-blump-clink-must-be.

You were given a life, conciousness, dreams, a mother-tongue
with which to praise—all of what is, was, and is beyond your power
to say.

You still don’t get it, Silverstein. The task is not to remember the past, but to change it; make it other, without so much suffering. Name the river running through your thirsty self. Impossible, you say? Dante did it; Blake & Darwin, too—what else is language for?

There’s a telescope in orbit that can see through space to the beginning of time. Poetry is higher tech than that. I speak for all the dead: Soothe us with the solace of eternity.

Dusk again, and clouds, fluffed-up balls with wispy tails,
streaks of orange and gray
reflected in the lake.

Five-ten minutes and they’re gone. The lake so still
there's lake inside reflected sky. Another lake.
Its clouds inside another sky.



Murray Silverstein

Murray Silverstein

Murray Silverstein has been published in RATTLE, The Brooklyn Review, Cape Rock Poetry, Spillway, Poetry East, West Marin Review, RUNES, Nimrod, Connecticut Review, The Hollins Critic, ZYZZYVA, California Quarterly, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Louisiana Literature, The MacGuffin, The Meadow, Pembroke Magazine, Pennsylvania English, Sweet Tree Review, Under a Warm Green Linden, and The Courtship of Winds, among others. He has authored two books of poetry, Master of Leaves (2014) and Any Old Wolf (2007), the latter of which received the Independent Publisher’s Bronze Medal for Poetry in 2006. Silverstein is the senior editor of the anthology America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience(2018), winner of the Independent Publisher’s Silver Medal for Anthologies in 2017. All were published by Sixteen Rivers Press. A retired architect, Silverstein also co-authored four books about architecture, including A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press) and Patterns of Home (The Taunton Press).


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