Elegy with Narrative of Tragic Passing, Nostalgia,
and Perfunctory Invocation of Peace
for Craig Arnold
There was the slip, the fall, and then
before them all the cast-off banana peel.
The slick of ice impossible at night to even see.
The warm puddle of water issuing
from the refrigerator larded with years
of midnight oaths of final repair.
The ankle turned years ago,
lifetimes ago, agos ago, it seems,
so long it’s been cursing you,
your stupidity, your drunkenness, your inability
to lift from the earth even one inch
without truly dire consequence.
And then the bad knee, no, knees:
plural in their congenital ache,
their first-thing-in-the-morning tale of woe.
To go on is to belabor it,
your hypothetical end, your agnostic demise,
the groomed rows of data
on the actuarial table
which could have saved us all this trouble,
even if it couldn’t save you from you.
Before this moment, before that one,
the sweet sun did your bidding.
It came when you called,
and the clouds were strange,
trained pets, the good kinds,
requiring no effort on your part, no attention, nothing.
Copyright © 2018 by Paul Guest
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Paul Guest is the author of four volumes of poetry and a memoir. His debut, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, was awarded the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. His second collection, Notes for My Body Double, was awarded the 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. His third collection, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge, was published by Ecco Press/ HarperCollins in 2008. His memoir, One More Theory About Happiness, was published by Ecco and selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Writers’ Award, Guest teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia.
“With vital, pulsating, elegiac poems that puncture the world with their tenderness and awful truths, Guest has once again proven he’s a brilliant poet raging both against and in defense of the world. Here are shiver-inducing poems that look steadily into our current destructive times and still manage to sing of love, desire, of something worth saving.”
“This splendid new collection by Paul Guest begins with a trumpet blast—two blasts, actually, with the first poem describing a post-apocalyptic world from which words have disappeared and the second addressing America as Allen Ginsberg might, saying “America, you know / the words; sing them with me.” Alternating between sound and silence, ecstasy and despair, Guest struggles as he takes on “this emergency we call life,” yet he finds much more to praise than to lament. That doesn’t mean that praise comes easily: “It is terrifying / to unhinge my mouth,” he says, “but I do.” The old Greeks would have called these passionate, noisy poems dithyrambs. I call them contemporary poetry at its very best.”