The Wonder of Having Lived Here a Long Time

John Koethe

Whatever happened to joke shops? I remember two of themIn downtown San Diego, one on a corner on BroadwayNot far from the library, that specialized in off-color signs,Like a guy sheepishly imploring “We don’t swim in your toilet,Please don’t pee in our pool,” or a tall Texan proclaiming“The high balls are on me.” The other was on F Street,Next door to the Hollywood Burlesque’s marquee celebratingTempest Storm, with a sign in its window offering fifteen dollarsFor 1945 pennies, which I started looking for until it hit me1945 meant 1,945. Anyway, they’re both gone now,While here I am, inhabiting a moment that supposedly was buriedIn those moments I spent looking through their windows sixty years ago,Although I don’t believe it. I’m supposed to be a part of nature too,As subject to its principles as particles and stars. I know time isn’t realAnd everything that happens happened thirteen billion years ago,When all of this somehow “occurred.” I realize these things,And yet deep down I think they can’t be true: I wasn’t even real thenAnd in a while I won’t be real anymore, like the joke shops and Tempest StormAs things turn into time and disappear (though she’s still here). And whileThat might be just the way things seem, it’s the way they seem to me.“It feels like such a miracle, this life”—I wrote that in a poemSix years ago and I repeat it now. I’ve no idea what other people feelAs they get old, but I feel nothing but amazement, not at what I am,Which is commonplace and ordinary, but that I am and have a life at all,The private one of these appearances beyond the reach of physics.Though they take the form of time, they’re really nothing but myself,The pages of a narrative that led the way from childhood to hereThat no one gets to read unless they want to, pausing to look in the windowOf the joke shop on Broadway on the way to the library, or the one on F StreetNext door to the Hollywood Burlesque. Not to mention Tempest Storm.

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John Koethe has published eleven books of poetry and has received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the Frank O’Hara Award for Poetry. He has also published books on Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosophical skepticism, and poetry, as well as the recent essay collection THOUGHT AND POETRY. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Cover of Beyond Belief

New York, New York

A rich, meditative new collection of poetry from John Koethe, the "necessary and great poet" (Hyperallergic).

"Koethe's verse is enticingly accessible even as it plumbs the most fundamental conundrums of human life with wit and humility."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"In Koethe’s relaxed, prose-like style, long sentences meander until his thoughts, taking a philosophical turn, dead end in a reverberant image or a metaphor like the enigmatic smile in 'Daddy,' one of the best poems in this striking collection."
—Diane Scharper, Library Journal

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