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Heads Up poetry column: Ars Poetica


Think of it, nine thousand

breakfasts together, and now

coffee again for the first time: what

a virginal movement it is, this

silvering together, every day

the very first day, every night

the first night, not a film replayed, more

like pages in a long book, strata

in these limestone hills we live in,

two billion years old.

We’re not yet as old as the limestone,

but we’re catching up—or rather,

reducing the proportion, like a kid brother

gaining on his elders; we’re gaining

on the limestone and

beginning to see

it’s an art, like Cellini’s, this

silvering—like poetry, reminding us

in its earnest, nagging way,

that every new minute we risk

immortality, surviving

for nine thousand days by luck or cunning;

but at the end we’re sent to press

with all our typos intact, fossils, captive

in the ancient rock. Meanwhile,

we’re all such fumblers, gauche,

all thumbs: maybe

poems and marriages deal

mostly in failures—on the way to shape,

nine thousand blemishes hitching a ride. Maybe

only a poem or a silver bowl

will tell us as well as love: that

these are the only raw

materials we have—the painful

moments of wonder,

the small, well-meant betrayals, rain

in the limestone hills.

Well, we’re not finished yet;

the revisions are still in process, a line here,

a day there, the whole thing

taking on a kind of polished

mutilation, a scarred silver florin,

a weathered hill,

an epic fragment.

There’s time yet to get it—not right,

of course, but anyway revised,

emended, more mature

in its lumpy way. Think of it,

two billion years of shaping:

it’s a beginning.